Fulton Market Street will remain closed seven days a week through December as part of an effort to expand outdoor dining to help struggling West Loop restaurants.
The closure, which begins this weekend, is between Morgan and Carpenter streets, according to Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
With indoor dining limited to 25% capacity under the city’s COVID-19 rules, outdoor dining has become essential to help restaurants survive. The city, as result, has experimented with street closures to expand outdoor dining.
Fulton Market Street was previously closed Fridays through Sundays in a weeks-long outdoor dining pilot program. Since the program went “smoothly,” the city decided to expand the closures to the rest of the week, with outdoor dining taking place from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. everyday, said Rod Burch, executive director of the West Central Association.
“For the restaurants, (outdoor dining) is a game changer,” said Burch, adding that his group played a role in ensuring the city issued the permits in a timely manner.
“Rolling out these outdoor dining permits already —by city standards —is pretty remarkable,” Burch said.
The city has also experimented with street closures and outdoor dining on Taylor Street in Little Italy and Randolph Street.
Currently, many restaurants have more outdoor seating than indoor, Burch said.
Swift & Sons, at 1000 W. Fulton Market St., has already expanded outdoor seating by 100, owner Phil Walters said.
“We were limited to 25% capacity (indoors), and Swift & Sons, a 400-seat restaurant, went down to like 50 seats,” he said. “With outdoor dining, we get 100 seats back, but we’re still below 50%” capacity.”
Walters commended the city for thinking “out of the box” but said the focus on outdoor dining permits has been limited to “big, splashy” neighborhoods, including Fulton Market.
“I think the city could make a more consistent approach in all neighborhoods,” Walters said.
With colder weather around the corner, though, stakeholders are concerned about how to keep business afloat when eating under the sun won’t always be an option. The city is running a design competition for winter dining in the event it rules out crowded indoor dining in the coming months.
With winter dining rules still in limbo, Walters said he’s been scrambling to research on purchasing outdoor tents, which could put his business back at least $150,000. But there’s no other option, he said.
To put “some of that restaurant inventory in the streets and make people feel safe —it works,” Walters said.