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Lightfoot urged to throw struggling restaurants a financial lifeline

Ald. Ray Lopez wants the city to grant a free, 60-day sidewalk café permit to “any restaurant or bar” meeting the city’s requirements for a sidewalk café. The Illinois Restaurant Association would go even further.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot surveyed damage on the South and West sides of the city on Monday. She meets here with residents outside Brown Sugar Bakery, 328 E 75th St, 
Mayor Lori Lightfoot surveyed areas damaged by looting on the South and West sides of the city on Monday before announcing the next day that the city would proceed with a limited reopening of businesses, including restaurants. Her stops Monday included this meeting with residents outside Brown Sugar Bakery, 328 E 75th St, 
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Mayor Lori Lightfoot was urged Thursday to throw a financial lifeline to Chicago restaurants fighting for survival after the one-two punch of rioting and the stay-at-home shutdown.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), the mayor’s most outspoken City Council critic, wants the city to grant a free, 60-day sidewalk café permit to “any restaurant or bar” meeting the city’s requirements for a sidewalk café.

The alderman said he was joined by the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council and 25 “family-owned restaurants and bars” in Brighton Park, Back of the Yards and Little Village.

“We need to be bold in our efforts in helping our local businesses in every neighborhood in Chicago,” Lopez was quoted as saying in a press release.

“We have the tools now to allow, within the context of the law, the ability to issue legitimate permits. Lightfoot has the emergency authority to defer fee collections.”

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said the request from Lopez doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Toia wants the city to waive its 0.5% restaurant tax for the rest of the year and grant free sidewalk café permits good for six months.

The sidewalk café permit waiver alone could save restaurants $500 to “a few thousand” dollars for a restaurant with “a lot of sidewalk space” in the Central Business District.

“The restaurant community here in the city of Chicago has been hemorrhaging. There are 7,500 restaurants here in Chicago. Half of ‘em are not even open right now. The other half that are open are doing curbside pick-up, delivery and carry-out — [and] are doing 20-to-30 percent of the business they were doing a year ago,” Toia said.

“No restaurants model out there could sustain itself going 10, 11 weeks with no sales or only 20 to 30 percent of the sales they were doing the previous years.”

Earlier this week, Chicago restaurants were authorized to open for outdoor dining.

Some took advantage of it. Others didn’t, some because they were vandalized and looted, others because they were afraid that ongoing demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd might turn violent.

Lightfoot has urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to allow Chicago restaurants to have at least some indoor dining in June.

The mayor has also agreed to close six of Chicago’s most popular restaurant corridors to traffic to give restaurants more space and revenue from outdoor dining.

But the plan has not taken effect in those corridors, which are in Chatham, Lake View, Little Village, the Gold Coast, the Near West Side and the West Loop. Local chambers of commerce are still working with the city and local restaurants to secure permits and establish operating hours that may differ from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Toia said he still hopes at least some of the street dining districts could be open this weekend, particularly in the Rush Street area, to take advantage of weekend weather expected to be beautiful.