Little Village's bustling 26th Street was targeted for expanded outdoor dining, but local leaders say closing the street to traffic isn't feasible. Credit: Flickr/David Wilson

LITTLE VILLAGE — The city is closing streets along business corridors to make more room for outdoor dining, but Little Village is opting out of the pilot program because some businesses fear cutting off traffic could do more harm than good.

Late last month, the Mayor’s Office launched a pilot program aimed at closing parts of six commercial avenues to allow restaurants to set up tables on surface streets for outdoor dining. In Little Village, the proposal was to close a seven-block stretch from Central Park to Harding avenues along 26th Street.

But neighborhood leaders say the idea won’t work.

Numerous cars drive through the historic street while customers pick up orders from restaurants and visit quinceañera shops or corner stores. In 2015, the bustling strip was said to the second-highest revenue generator in Chicago behind the Magnificent Mile.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) and Blanca Soto, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, said entrepreneurs along the arterial street were concerned the program would slow business even more when so many establishments are hurting. 

“We had heard anecdotally that on days 26th Street is closed to traffic, they lose upwards of 75-80 percent of their business,” Rodriguez said. 

The pilot is meant to help restaurants by giving them more space to seat customers outdoors, since the coronavirus pandemic has prevented indoor dining for months. Even when indoor dining is allowed Friday, there will be strict capacity limits and safety rules.

Soto said Rodriguez and Ald. George Cardenas (12th) spoke with businesses along the commercial strip to gather input about the pilot.

At a time when businesses are already struggling, Rodriguez said he, along with the chamber, didn’t want to put owners in a situation that could result in more revenue loss.

“We thank the city for considering 26th Street for one of the pilots,” Rodriguez said. “The whole purpose of the pilot was to support restaurants that have been suffering over the last several months.

“Longtime 26th Street restaurants that have been in the neighborhood for 40 or 50 years have been suffering tremendously, and some of which are considering closing. We have to do everything in our power to support them and not hurt them.”

Balmoral Avenue near Clark Street is closed to traffic for expanded outdoor dining for the Replay, Hamburger Mary’s and Vincent restaurants in the Andersonville neighborhood on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Instead, Rodriguez said he has worked to help businesses in his ward by trying to expedite the sidewalk cafe permitting process from months to five days and reduce the cost from $600 to $150.

Amid the pandemic, some restaurants have been forced to temporarily close while others have pivoted to delivery-only.  

Don Pepe restaurant owner Roberto Gonzalez said he’s signed up with delivery services like Grubhub, Uber eats and Postmates to stay afloat. 

Gonzalez said closing the streets would be “more harmful than beneficial.” Delivery drivers won’t have a way of picking up orders, he said.

Gonzalez supports the sidewalk permits idea, saying that — along with delivery and Phase 4 allowing for reopening of limited indoor dining Friday — would be more helpful for him and other businesses.

Mike Moreno Jr., owner of Osito’s Tap, agreed.

Moreno said he felt working with restaurants on sidewalk cafes would be a greater benefit for businesses. Moreno is preparing his sidewalk seating to open this week.

Focusing on “sidewalk cafe permits is a smart move to help out struggling businesses,” Moreno said.

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Pilsen, Little Village and West Loop reporterrnrnmauricio@blockclubchi.orgnnPilsen, Little Village and West Loop Twitter @MauricioPena

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