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Local News

COVID-19 pandemic shuts down carnivals, outdoor businesses

Windy City Amusements, Fay’s Pork Chop Bar-B-Que among businesses affected

For businesses like St. Charles-based Windy City Amusements and Waterman-based Fay’s Pork Chop Bar-B-Que, summer is usually the busiest time of the year.
But with many summer events being cancelled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they are struggling to find any business. Typically, Windy City Amusements will set up its first carnivals for the year in mid-April.
For businesses like St. Charles-based Windy City Amusements and Waterman-based Fay’s Pork Chop Bar-B-Que, summer is usually the busiest time of the year. But with many summer events being cancelled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they are struggling to find any business. Typically, Windy City Amusements will set up its first carnivals for the year in mid-April.

For businesses like St. Charles-based Windy City Amusements and Waterman-based Fay’s Pork Chop Bar-B-Que, summer is usually the busiest time of the year.

But with many summer events being canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they are struggling to find any business. Typically, Windy City Amusements will set up its first carnivals for the year in mid-April.

"We were scheduled to run some spring parking lot carnivals to raise money for the Fox Valley United Way," office manager Cheryl Salerno said in an email. "Due to the pandemic, we are not sure if we will be able to open and run any fundraisers for local organizations in 2020."

Windy City Amusements holds fundraiser carnivals for a variety of organizations each year. In 2019, it raised more than $1 million for local organizations.

"Carnivals are some of the biggest fundraisers for a lot of organizations," Salerno said.

In a normal year, the family-owned business, which started in 1977, will provide amusement rides for an average of two festivals a week. But everything is up in the air this year.

"At this time, we have not been told what health and safety measures would need to be put in place in order for carnivals/festivals to take place," Salerno said. "But as a family owned and operated business, the safety of our customers as well as our employees is our top priority."

Along with Windy City Amusements not seeing any business, their workers also are not receiving a paycheck. The company typically employs between 40 to 75 workers from mid-April through the end of October.

"We can't hire any of our regular workers back as we have no income and have no idea if and when we will be allowed to open," Salerno said.

Conventions, festivals and large events would be able to take place as part of the fifth and final phase of Gov. JB Pritzker's plan to reopen Illinois. The plan divides the state into four "health regions," which will move through the five phases independent of one another based on COVID-19 data and health care capacity within the region. The Northeast region, which includes St. Charles, covers nine counties: Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, McHenry, Lake and Will.

Salerno took issue with the fact that Kane County is included in the same region as Cook County along with festivals being included in the last phase.

"Besides festivals being in the fifth phase of the reopening of Illinois plan, it seems unfair to have so many counties lumped into the same region as the city of Chicago," she said. "I think that each county should be considered individually.

Fay’s Pork Chop Bar-B-Que, which does outdoor catering, is in a similar situation. The business, which started in 1962, hasn't catered an event since March 11.

"Since then, everything has either been canceled or postponed to who knows when," said longtime manager Bob Dempsey. "Some of them have been postponed a couple of times."

And he has no idea when he will be able to cater a event. Under the state's current rules, no non-essential gatherings are allowed.

The state is currently in phase two of Pritzker's plan to reopen Illinois. Phase three allows for gatherings of 10 people and phase four allows for gatherings of 50 people.

"We do private parties, factory picnics and things of that nature and they are all more than 10 people," Dempsey said. "And a lot of times they are more than 50 people."

And he believes more events might be canceled in the future, such as the Sandwich Fair, set for Sept. 9-13. He has resigned himself to the fact that things are not going to turn around anytime soon.

"I'm in a business that probably isn't going to function too well for quite a while," Dempsey said.

Fortunately, his employees are all part-time, with the exception of his daughter, who works in the office.

"I'm not doing anything so I can live without getting a paycheck," said Dempsey, who will celebrate his 80th birthday in a couple of months. "I still have to pay her, but I don't have anyone else who I have to pay. But it doesn't look very promising, for a couple of months, anyway."

And he admitted that even after large gatherings are allowed to resume, people might be hesitant about taking part in those activities.

"People may still be leery of coming out, even though they could," Dempsey said.

Because of the standstill in business, he has a lot of extra time on his hands, which he has been putting to good use.

"I've had time to get caught up on paperwork and filing along with cleaning my shop and cleaning my garage," Dempsey said. "This morning, I was fixing a lawn mower that broke down yesterday. I've got plenty of things to do, but not what I should be doing."

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