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Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Norwood Park

Lines Start At 3:30 AM, Stretch For Blocks At Newly Reopened Secretary Of State Offices

Most secretary of state offices — where new driver's licenses, permits and license plates are processed — closed in November because of the pandemic.

The line at the Elston Avenue Secretary of State office stretched through the parking lot on Jan. 5, 2020, the day the office reopened after a pandemic closure.
Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago
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JEFFERSON PARK — Orlando Reyes thought he’d be first in line to renew his driver’s license when he arrived at the Secretary of State driver’s facility at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday — four hours before it was scheduled to open after an extended closure because of the pandemic.

But his plan to wait the first few hours in his car had to be ditched when he saw others arrive at 4 a.m., forcing him to get out and wait in line. 

That’s where he remained until the facility at 5401 W. Elston Ave. opened at 7:30 a.m., the first time most Secretary of State driver facilities have opened since November when Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White determined it was the safe thing to do for workers and customers because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

It was the second extended, coronavirus-forced closure of many of the offices, which Illinois residents rely on for services such as getting new driver’s licenses and permits. Previously the facilities closed from March 17 to June 1, according to Secretary of State spokesman Dave Druker.

For Reyes, the long line that wrapped around the facility was expected and he dressed warmly, although after three hours he conceded his toes were getting cold inside his boots.

Credit: Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago

For Craig Rutherford, cold wasn’t an issue as he waited  in his car while his 15-year-old daughter Madelyn and her friend Celia Flynn, also 15, earned their driving permits by waiting outside in line, wrapped in blankets.

Others, like Jessica Singleton, took her own father’s advice and brought a folding chair to save her legs during the wait and bundled up.

Credit: Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago

The line at the Chicago South location — 9901 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. — also stretched for blocks. There, Air Force veteran Marc Wolfe was in line for three hours with a large line still ahead of him as he waited to get his first Illinois driver’s license after serving in Guam the last three years.

“It’s cold, a lot colder than Guam,” Wolfe said of the 30-degree temperature. He added his father called him early Tuesday to advise him about the long lines, so he wasn’t surprised.

However, Druker said Tuesday that he was surprised at the lines because he believed the Secretary of State’s Office focused a lot of efforts to advise the public that some deadlines were extended.

“I’m a little confused because the expiration date of licenses and IDs was extended until June 1 and the stickers for registrations you can get online,” he said. He added that “all the information is on our website.”

But Amanda Parker, a West Loop resident who used to live out of state and took the day off from her job to get an Illinois license, said she came up empty after visiting three facilities on Tuesday.

“I went to the Thompson Center and then to 69 W. Washington. After that, I went to the one on Elston,” Parker said. “The two in the loop were closed and so I took an Uber to the Elston location since I already took the morning off of work. When I got there and saw the line I gave up,” Parker said.

The lines weren’t as long at every facility however. At the facility at 4642 N. Diversey Ave., Ulisses Batrez arrived at 7 a.m. to find about 50 people in front of him and about an hour’s wait.

Credit: Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago

But some facilities remained closed because of things outside the Secretary of State’s control. The facility at 5301 W. Lexington Ave. was closed because of road construction; the facility inside the Thompson Center downtown was closed because most State of Illinois buildings are closed during the pandemic and the express facility in the pedway at 69 W. Washington was closed because that building is run by Cook County and also closed because of the pandemic, Druker said.

Credit: Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago

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