WRIGLEYVILLE — Game nights at Wrigley Field are usually the “bread and butter” for bars like Murphy’s Bleachers, which depends on foot traffic from the droves of fans who pack the stadium during Cubs games.
But this year’s empty stands translated to empty barstools.
Freddy Fagenholz, general manager at Murphy’s, called it a “trickle effect.”
“You start at Wrigley Field, where their vendors and people who staff the suites aren’t working, which affects the company that sells beer to the vendors,” Fagenolz said. “And then it trickles into the neighborhood.”
The coronavirus pandemic has devastated bars across the city, which had to close for months and now face capacity limits. And this summer’s abridged and crowd-less baseball season has put extra strain on Wrigleyville bars.
Fagenholz said the return of baseball season in late July “helped to a point” by bringing people who live in the neighborhood out to the bar’s patio during games, but “there’s only so much you can do with 25 percent capacity and keeping people 6 feet apart.”
Fagenholz said he’s “trying to stay optimistic” and celebrate that Murphy’s has made enough money to continue paying its bills and employees.
Murphy’s plans to stay open through the winter, Fagenholz said. But he worries the end of patio season could lead other bars to shut down.
“I would probably guess that after the weather turns cold, you’ll start to see a lot of bars in Wrigleyville — and in general — shut down,” Fagenholz said.
Some neighborhood bars — like the beloved Guthrie’s Tavern and Redmond’s Ale House — have already closed for good, blaming financial loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Zach Strauss, who co-owns Sluggers with his brothers, said strict coronavirus restrictions like the 11 p.m. curfew on liquor sales at bars have cut into business during peak hours.
He said customers will often show up to Sluggers at 9 or 10 p.m. and then have to leave an hour later because it’s closing.
“We need to be able to stay open until what we paid for in our liquor licenses, which is 2 or 3 a.m., because that’s when we make most of our money,” Strauss said. “Even just an hour later would make a huge difference.”
Strauss also said raising the indoor capacity limit to 50 percent could help bars survive beyond baseball season and through winter.
Bars have proven they’re capable of adapting to changing coronavirus guidelines, Strauss said, and they can take on extra responsibility to make sure customers are all wearing masks and staying at their tables if curfew and capacity limits are eased up.
“Put the responsibility on us to adjust, and if the bar isn’t doing its due diligence, fine them or shut them down,” Strauss said. “But right now, everyone is being penalized.”
Strauss said sales at Sluggers are down 95 percent from last year, but they plan on staying open through the pandemic. He envisions crowds of fans back at Wrigley Field for Cubs games as the light at the end of the tunnel.
“The good thing about Wrigleyville is the Cubs are still here,” Strauss said. “So when this is all over and we have 40,000 people across the street once again, we’ll be here too waiting for them.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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