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Local bars, restaurants brace for shutdown of indoor dining

Main Street Pub, 466 N. Main St. in downtown Glen Ellyn, is one of the several DuPage County restaurants preparing to shut down indoor dining for the second time this year.
Main Street Pub, 466 N. Main St. in downtown Glen Ellyn, is one of the several DuPage County restaurants preparing to shut down indoor dining for the second time this year.

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Seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurant and bar owners in DuPage County are facing the prospect of shutting down indoor dining for the second time this year.

This comes after Gov. JB Pritzker announced Oct. 20 a suspension of indoor dining and bar service in DuPage, Kane, Will and Kankakee counties starting Oct. 23 to help slow the spread of the virus.

The restrictions, which include a limit of gatherings to 25 or fewer people, come as those public health regions saw their 7-day rolling average test positivity rate climb to 8% or above for three consecutive days, which exceeds the threshold set for establishing mitigation measures under the state's Restore Illinois plan.

"We are seeing a national surge of cases affecting every state around us in a dramatic way, and in Illinois we are seeing the numbers go up all across the state," Pritzker said in announcing the restrictions. "This isn't about punishing anybody. All the studies done on bars and restaurants show these are significant spreading locations."

The announcement was met with a measure of anxiety and frustration among restaurant owners and business associations.

"Needless to say I am disappointed with the governor having to take additional restrictive actions as we approach a time when outdoor dining will be pretty much limited given the winter weather that we expect to move into," said John Quigley, president and CEO of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce.

"If the shutdown is statistically based, it's understandable. If the number of increased cases without a corresponding increase in deaths are a reason to be more restrictive and it's falling on the shoulders of bars and restaurants and not other businesses and retail locations that also attract large crowds, that is troublesome," he added.

The restrictions will remain until each region's positivity rate decreases to 6.5% or lower for three consecutive days. If the rate is 8% or higher at the end of 14 days, tougher restrictions could be imposed.

Establishments such as Parker's Restaurant & Bar in Downers Grove on Oct. 20 still were processing how to move forward without indoor dining for an indefinite period of time. Parker's has its full menu available for carryout.

"It came at us so quick," said Michael Cole, vice president of operations for Select Restaurants, which owns eight restaurants including Parker's. "As a restaurant, we have to regroup and make a determination in what to do next. It's disappointing that we have to shut down. We're weighing our options. We'll take a day or two to prepare."

Cole felt for the employees, many of whom were furloughed between March and June during the previous shutdown before Parker's reopened for indoor dining.

"This affects everybody," Cole said. "We have to remain as positive and optimistic as possible and hopefully this is for a short time, the mandates are lifted and we can get back to business. It is hard from the employees' perspective. They've been suffering for six months, they seem to be getting their feet underneath them and something like this happens and you pull the rug out from underneath them. It's unfortunate."

Luis De La Torre, general manager at Main Street Pub in Glen Ellyn, said the news was discussed among employees who have been talking about the possibility of more restrictions for some time.

"It is definitely unfortunate, but we will do our best to still continue that we make sure we are making meals for families that still want to go out and dine," said De La Torre, who added Main Street Pub offers takeout but wasn't sure if it would be having to-go orders right off the bat Oct. 23. "A lot of people are definitely worried and rightfully so. But I feel like most of our staff understands it's something that with the number of [COVID-19] cases rising is necessary to stay safe here in Illinois."

Michael Cassa, President and CEO of the Downers Grove Economic Development Corporation, called the new restrictions unfortunate for the restaurants in Downers Grove and throughout DuPage County that have been surviving on outdoor dining and limited capacity indoor dining.

"With the cold weather coming outdoor dining will be difficult; hopefully the DuPage County positivity rate will be reduced and the state's mitigations will be lifted very soon," Cassa said. "Each restaurant will be in a different position. Those with a drive through and a pretty established delivery system can fall back on that. Some restaurants have been doing pick up and carry out during this pandemic. For those that truly rely on people coming to the restaurant and being seated, they will be severely impacted, and also the employees. It's very tough right now."

Quigley said the effect on restaurants and bars is particularly concerning without a federal relief package on the way to help protect businesses through the winter months. He said that almost every business he knows of, including bars and restaurants, has exhausted funds they received from the Paycheck Protection Program as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in March.

A second coronavirus stimulus package remains stalled in Congress.

Quigley expects this is a situation in which restaurants and bars could potentially have to furlough employees again.

"Unfortunately, I don't see a way for many of them to get through this except for in a bare-bones manner," Quigley said. "I'm sure the governor hopes that in another four to six weeks the numbers will get to where he prefers them and lifts the restrictions. Hopefully this is lifted by December."

Cassa encouraged his community to do its part to help establishments get through the mitigation period.

"I encourage all Downers Grove residents and employees here to use the delivery system and carryout services in local restaurants to still get the same great food," Cassa said. "I encourage everyone to patronize restaurants during this tough time."

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