Despite rioting and looting that damaged businesses across the city, Chicago will forge ahead Wednesday with its plan to partially emerge from the stay-at-home shutdown tied to the coronavirus.
“I want to tell the city now after a lot of consultation and yes, a lot of prayer, we will reopen tomorrow and take this important next step as planned,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
The mayor said she made the decision after a lot of conversations with owners of South and West Side businesses “whose lives have been shattered” by the violence and looting not seen since the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
They had been gearing up to reopen but were, instead, contacting insurance companies, sweeping up broken glass and boarding up doors and windows with help from local residents.
It was a “humbling experience to bear witness to their resolve” and watch neighbors pitching in and “reclaiming territory,” the mayor said. One woman “burst into tears” as she pointed to the “devastation” and talked about “how much her business meant to her,” Lightfoot said.
“Everywhere I went, I asked the question, `Should we open or should we delay?’ And to universal acclaim emphatically, what I heard from people is, `Mayor, we have to step forward. We have to open,’ “ Lightfoot said.
“Even those businesses that may not be able to open tomorrow, those owners told me, `Mayor, we’ve been preparing. Our workers are ready. We need to see our customers. They need to see us being resilient and recovering even in the face of all of the losses over ten weeks and, particularly, the devastating losses over these past couple of days.”
In making the decision to tiptoe into Phase 3, City Hall is well aware scores of businesses looted and damaged during weekend rioting that continued Monday are not yet prepared to reopen.
Those businesses still cleaning up and replenishing merchandise picked clean by looters will reopen at their own pace, said Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno.
The city will assist — by providing “police presence at grocery stores and pharmacies vital to their communities” and by “directly engaging” with insurance companies to eliminate red tape and speed payment of business claims.
City Hall is also in the process of developing yet another relief fund to assist devastated businesses from “city sources and private philanthropy,” the mayor said.
Still, the question remains: How safe will it be, and how reluctant will customers and outdoor diners be to return when demonstrations peacefully protesting the death of George Floyd can turn ugly and violent on a dime?
“That’s why we’ve got to make sure we’ve got high visibility — not just downtown,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot noted “all our restaurant corridors have been hard hit,” including the six designated for street closings to make outdoor dining more lucrative. She vowed to work with local restaurant owners to have “security plans in place so people will know and feel comfortable coming out.”
Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said Lightfoot made the right decision to proceed with Phase 3. Still, he acknowledged “dozens and dozens” of damaged restaurants — particularly in River North and Wicker Park — will not be ready to join in the reopening.
“This is not gonna help all restaurant owner-operators throughout the city. But it’s a step in the right direction toward opening our economy and getting things to be back to a little bit normal in Chicago,” Toia said.
Toia noted Chicago had a “calm night” Monday with a peaceful protest in Lakeview.
“If we have another calm night tonight, maybe tomorrow the bridges will go back down. We’ll open back up the Central Business District. And you’ll get some people coming down. I don’t know if there’ll be a lot of restaurants opening up tomorrow. But, I do imagine, some,” he said.
“Some will look at opening more on Friday and Saturday. But there are quite a few people that live in the Central Business District as well. If we have another calm night, the restaurants that do open to al fresco dining could definitely get some of the residents to come out.”
Toia renewed his plea for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to allow restaurants to open to at least some indoor dining during the month of June.
“Inside would be a little bit closed off more,” from the danger or rioting, he said.
The rioting may have become a factor in the reopening, but the reason for the shutdown remains: a global pandemic.
Phase 3 is called the “Cautiously Reopen” phase, and Lightfoot means it: the threat of COVID-19 is “still very much with us,” she said.
“We have to be cautious. We have to be careful. That means you,” she said.
Nonetheless, the city has met all the benchmarks it must meet to enter Phase 3, Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner, said Tuesday.
“New cases are continuing, but they are on the decline,” Arwady said.
Wednesday’s partial reopening with limited capacity runs the gamut — from hotels, outdoor dining at restaurants, office-based jobs and professional services to non-lakefront golf courses, child care inside and outside the home, non-essential retail stores and personal services.
Barber shops, hair and nail salons are included — at limited capacity, with strict safety precautions.
That includes face masks for everyone, gloves for stylists, goggles or face shields during shampoos — but no beard and mustache trims for men or whole-face makeup for women. Lashes and eyebrow trims are OK, since that can be done without removing a customer’s face mask.
Lightfoot has also announced a plan to make outdoor dining more lucrative by closing streets in six of Chicago’s busiest restaurant corridors — Chatham, Lakeview, Little Village, the Gold Coast, the Near West Side and West Loop — to allow restaurants to set up tables in bus lanes and adjacent parking lots.
But the plan will not get underway until permits are issued and the days and hours of street closings in the pilot areas are determined in coordination with local restaurant owners and chambers of commerce.
Bars must wait to take advantage of the new state law authorizing the sale of cocktails-to-go. Lightfoot said she’s drafting a Chicago-specific ordinance, presumably for direct introduction to a City Council committee in time for final approval June 17.
City services, including libraries and Chicago Park District facilities (but only west of Lake Shore Drive) reopen June 8.
Before the outbreak of violence, City Hall had anticipated as many as 130,000 employees returning to work in Phase 3. Lightfoot had urged businesses to stagger their starting times to allow the CTA and Metra to handle the crowds while allowing commuters to maintain social distance.
But, with a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew still in place and bridges up, Lightfoot was asked how employees will get to work.
The mayor would only say she would work with police and local stakeholders to determine answers to those questions.
“Our first priority has to be public safety,” she said. “But we are looking at ways in which we can make adjustments so we can open up safely, but securely,” she said.