Hassles with sidewalk cafes are pretty much in the category of first-world problems.
Nevertheless, a noisy outdoor seating area that hogs the sidewalk is still a headache for pedestrians and people who live and work nearby.
And as the number of sidewalk cafes has soared in recent years, so has the number of official complaints filed with the city about problem cafes, as Sun-Times consumer investigations reporter Stephanie Zimmermann found.
There’s only so much room to spare when tables and chairs, outdoor planters, a hostess station and a sign advertising the daily special have to share the sidewalk with electric scooters, trees, parking signposts, light poles and maybe a bike rack.
It’s an annoyance for pedestrians, and a nightmare for those who use a wheelchair or a walker — or are visually impaired.
So, restaurant owners, take note: When you set up the sidewalk cafe, remember to be a good neighbor.
Too many cafes are falling down on the job, it seems. Chicago now has more than 1,100 permitted sidewalk cafes, and the number of complaints has risen to 138 so far this year. That’s about a third more than the 106 complaints filed in 2018.
City Hall has issued 629 citations against cafes since 2017, for violations like failing to leave enough room on the sidewalk, staying open too late, opening too early, and playing music too loudly.
Sidewalk cafes are part of the fabric of a Chicago summer. Weather-permitting, the more of them, the better, in our view.
They just need to follow the rules.
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