LAKEVIEW — As Chicago entered Phase 3 of its coronavirus response this week, allowing more businesses to resume operations, Lakeview business owners began a steady reopening after months of being closed and a week of protests and unrest.
Restaurants, like Wilde at 3130 N. Broadway, are now allowed to reopen, but only for outdoor dining and with strict capacity limits.
With its front windows boarded up after several local businesses were looted during the weekend, the bar and restaurant was still only serving to-go customers on Wednesday.
“We’re cautiously reopening,” said Maurice Fox, who manages the restaurant with Debbie Smith. “There were a lot of people together over the last few days, and we don’t know if there will be a spike [in COVID-19 cases].”
Smith said Wilde has “fortunately been doing really well with carryout orders” since the pandemic closed all restaurant dining a few months ago. But being able to reopen — even at a limited dining capacity — will help ease the financial impact of the pandemic.
As of Wednesday, restaurants can reopen for outdoor dining, including a limited number of indoor tables if 50% of the storefront can be opened up.
At Wilde, that means four outdoor tables and another two just inside by its storefront that folds up. Each table seats up to four people.
“It’s something,” Smith said. “It’s getting better.”
Wilde — and other restaurants along its business corridor — will soon have even more outdoor seating once the city begins temporary closures of Broadway from Belmont Avenue to Diversey Parkway, allowing restaurants to spread tables out in the street.
The stretch of Broadway is one of six commercial corridors included in the city’s pilot program, which began Wednesday. Broadway from Belmont Avenue to Diversey Parkway will periodically close to thru traffic to broaden outdoor dining.
But Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, said Broadway’s closure has been pushed back “so we can roll it out more thoughtfully.” She hopes to begin closing the corridor periodically for outdoor dining by June 12.
“In light of all the stuff happening in the neighborhoods, we need to give our businesses a little bit of time to be fully open and running before we start this,” Martino said. “Instead of hurrying up and closing the street, we want to make sure this is a well thought-out plan.”
Greg Shuff, owner of DryHop Brewers at 3115 N. Broadway, opened seating for the restaurant’s patio as soon as it opened on Wednesday.
Shuff runs DryHop, as well as the adjacent wood-fire pizza joint Roebucks. Their strategy for reopening is to continue running Roebucks as a carryout and delivery service so that DryHop’s seating can be expanded into the neighboring storefront and patio.
That gives the restaurant 12 tables and about 50 seats, which is about 20% of DryHop’s usual capacity.
“So this isn’t a final solution by any means,” Shuff said. “If we were stuck like this for a year, we’d go out of business, but it’s still better than that past few months.”
Overall, DryHop is down about 65% in business compared to the same period last year, Shuff said, adding that closing Broadway for more outdoor dining will help. But he worries about other businesses like grocery stores or delivery-only restaurants.
Nearly a dozen people were lined up outside DryHop before it reopened for dining at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but it’s phone was “ringing all day” with people hoping to be its first diners, Shuff said.
“I suspect by the end of this week we will be pretty busy again,” Shuff said. “I’m looking forward to when we can safely run at full capacity again.”
While visiting his Ann Sather restaurant at 909 W. Belmont Ave. on Monday, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he is advocating for restaurants to be able to reopen indoors at a 25% capacity level, so that businesses without storefront windows or sidewalk cafes can also start generating more revenue.
“This pandemic is not going away, so we’ve got to figure out the science and learn to live with it,” Tunney said. “We can find a way to do this safely.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Boystown and Lincoln Park for Block Club Chicago.
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