Chicagoans flock to restaurants for the next phase of reopening: ‘Feels so weird being back’
Haircuts, salon appointments, breakfast and beers are on cooped-up Chicago residents’ lists of must-dos. But some businesses are still reeling from last weekend’s unrest and could not reopen to customers.
Shaggy-headed men formed a line outside Father & Son Barber Shop in Edgewater well before it opened at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Perched on a lawn chair, Andrew Carpenter, 36, worked remotely on his phone as he waited his turn.
It was safety, not vanity, that motivated him to show up early on the first day of Phase 3 of Chicago’s reopening, as hundreds of businesses were allowed to reopen their doors after almost three months of the coronavirus shutdown.
“I was hoping to be one of the first, before the barbers have contact with a lot of customers,” he said, suspecting odds would be lower any barbers would have COVID-19 at the onset of reopening their business. “Then I’m going to wait a couple months before I get another cut.”
“I’m also here because it’s getting hot, and my wife really doesn’t like it this big and shaggy. But it’s always good to have a professional appearance as well,” said Carpenter, a real estate agent.
It was a different story in the city’s Roseland neighborhood, where many businesses remained closed in the wake of weekend rioting, some boarded up and covered with metal security shutters.
It was still carryout only at The Ware Ranch steakhouse, 1147 S. Michigan Ave. Owner Judy Ware said she had to close Sunday so her staff could clean up the damaged entrance way. Business was slow Tuesday but steady Wednesday, she said.
“I made a decision to open the restaurant up [again] based on my observation of what was going on in the area,” Ware said. “There was no place to get anything to eat, so I felt like I had to open up to give people an option.”
There weren’t as many boarded storefronts in Morgan Park and Beverly. Customers were getting their hair done at The Tranquility Salon Company, 9908 S. Walden Parkway, for the first time since mid-March, a hiatus that co-owner Meg’n Barba actually saw as a positive.
“Before this thing happened, I feel like [work] was just cyclical,” she said. “Now, I feel like we’ve had a lot of time to reflect and to see what’s important.”
Marcia McGann Hatzell was happy to welcome diners back to Franconello, 10222 S. Western Ave., but she said it’ll take some getting used to masked greetings.
“You’re so excited to see everybody but you can’t react the way you want to — like a human being,” she said.
Weeks of preparation at Pink Taco came to a head over the chaotic weekend, leaving general manager Brian Mackenzie anxiously awaiting a survey of the damage in River North. Two windows ended up being broken, leaving the restaurant relatively unscathed compared to other boarded-up businesses at the normally bustling intersection of Hubbard and Wells streets.
“People are just ready to be back and busy. The No. 1 reason we’re in as good of shape as we are now, is luck,” Mackenzie said, with eight full tables being served outside.
“It feels so weird being back to normal,” Jessica Grapenthin said over drinks with Garrett Vaughan. “Or sort of normal, at least.”
Fortunes weren’t quite so cheery for Club Lago co-owner Guido Nardini, who arrived the morning of the big partial reopening only to find a city construction crew pouring a sidewalk just outside the entrance near his new makeshift patio at 331 W. Superior St.
“I don’t know if I could have less luck with the city,” Nardini said. “But that also disincentivized people from breaking in [during Saturday’s riots], so you count your blessings.”
Nardini applauded officials’ responses to the pandemic, but said he hopes the city quickly expands street closures to make room for more outdoor diners, as it plans to do in six other commercial corridors — though none of them were cordoned off for diners as of Wednesday afternoon.
“I am subject to how many seats I have, and if I only have 12 seats, every chicken parmigiana would have to cost $500 to come close to breaking even,” Nardini said. “That’s not sustainable.”
A trio of Armour Square neighborhood bars and restaurants launched into patio season Wednesday afternoon along 33rd Street — north of the parking lots that usually are home to tailgating White Sox fans, but instead are serving as a staging area for Chicago Police officers still bracing for protests.
Mario Scalise said he felt fortunate to come out the other end of the shutdown and a weekend of unrest with his Stix ‘n Brix pizza restaurant intact at 220 W. 33rd St.
The restaurant had been handling about a third of its normal business when limited to takeout and had to furlough most employees, Scalise said, but a federal PPP loan helped make ends meet.
“My fear is that some restaurants in other parts of the city just get swamped over capacity, and that ends up setting the whole city back,” he said. “For now, it’s just a matter of figuring out how comfortable people are to go out and sit down in a restaurant.”
Ashkan Mokhtari said it had been about three months since he and three friends from the nearby Illinois Institute of Technology had seen each other before they sat down over cups of coffee.
The next destination on the group’s reopening reopening itinerary?
“A bar. I really miss having beers,” Mokhtari said.
Two blocks north, a woman emerged from Velvet Pin Up Hair Studio, 243 W. 31st St., after her first professional haircut in three months.
The Bridgeport native said she’d barely slept the night before in excitement of the long overdue ‘do.
“I put a bra and makeup on for the first time in months. I’ve had my hair clipped up like Pebbles [from ‘The Flintstones’] this whole time,” said the woman, who preferred not to give her name.
At Kanela Breakfast Club in Andersonville, Caryn Garaygay sipped from her latte, and then her mimosa.
“I’m going all out today, liquor and caffeine,” she said with a laugh. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time.”
Manager Trevor DeChant was overjoyed to have them. Filling orders for carryout and delivery is just not the same.
“You can’t see people enjoying food,” he said. “I know our food is good, and it’s comforting to see people share that sentiment.”
At Maxim Nails in Bronzeville’s Lake Meadows Shopping Center, Hien Tran said her mother, Kelly, had not planned to reopen her nail salon to customers Wednesday, three days after the strip mall where the shop stands was looted.
“We knew we weren’t going to be one” of the stores reopening Wednesday, Hien Tran said outside the business at 34th and King Drive. “Even with the COVID-19, we still didn’t feel like we were ready to open because the cases have still been spiking up, and we value our employees,” she said.
“A life is worth more to us than money,” she said.
Then the looting happened Sunday. “This just put us two steps back,” Hien Tran said as workers stepped through shattered glass to fix boarded up store windows.
Hien Tran said with all the repairs needed at Maxim, they’re hoping to reopen to clients around the “beginning of July.”
When it does, client safety will be the priority. “We’re still taking precautions with COVID-19. My mom bought sanitizers, gloves, shields.”
Next door, at The UPS Store, a table was set up to meet returning customers at the entrance, barring everyone but workers from coming inside.
Owner David B. Bender said vandalism in the store wasn’t too bad. The looters had another goal there: packages.
“It’s UPS, and they knew that there were packages in that store, and that’s what they came for,” Bender said. “They came in waves” that night, he said. “The first wave took all the big stuff. The second wave just took what the first wave left behind.”
That leaves Bender’s customers without their items. “If they had their package in that store prior to Monday, none of them will be able to retrieve anything.”
The shop owner said he is grateful to volunteers who have helped out answering phones while he works to get the store fully operational. Bender said that may be sometime next week, “but we are doing what we can to make it happen sooner.”