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Chicagoans welcome new COVID-19 vaccine requirement; business owners more wary

The new measure, taking effect Jan. 3, will require restaurants, bars and gyms to check patrons’ vaccination card and ID.

Ramon Aguirre, owner of Bella Notte Ristorante in West Town, said the new vaccine mandate for diners is another hardship for restaurants. “It puts us in a tough spot trying to police our customers,” Aguirre said.
Ramon Aguirre, owner of Bella Notte Ristorante in West Town, said the new vaccine mandate for diners is another hardship for restaurants. “It puts us in a tough spot trying to police our customers,” Aguirre said.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Some Chicagoans say they don’t mind having to show proof they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to eat in a restaurant or drink in a bar.

But some businesses affected by the city’s latest efforts to mitigate the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus believe it may cause an additional strain during an already difficult time.

On Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that all patrons must show proof of being fully vaccinated to patronize any bar, restaurant, fitness center, or entertainment and recreational venue where food and drink is served. Customers must show their vaccination card or a digital photo of it, along with a government-issued ID, though people ordering or picking up take-out are exempt.

The new measures begin Jan 3.

Brothers Matt Pennetti, 38, and Travis Pennetti, 30, shopping along Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park Tuesday, said the city’s latest step was overdue.

“It really is no different than walking into a bar and them asking to see your ID to make sure you’re 21 [years old],” Matt Pennetti said. “You just want to make sure everyone in there is safe and protected.”

Though Travis Pennetti said part of him believes businesses, not government, should set those requirements, “I would feel better going into a place knowing that everyone is vaccinated. ... It’s like going to concerts now where I still wear masks and everything, but I feel a lot better knowing that everybody else in there has been checked out.”

The measures, the brothers said, were particularly important with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly. Still, any new rule breeds an opportunity for some to buck the policy.

“I really think you will see a rise in the number of fake vaccination cards. I mean, it seems so easy to manufacture,” Matt Pennetti said. “As important as making people show their cards, it is important to make sure they are authentic.”

Brothers Travis Pennetti, 30, (left) and Matt Pennetti, 38, said Tuesday they welcomed the new city’s mandate to require patrons of bars, restaurants and gyms show proof of vaccination.
Brothers Travis Pennetti, 30, (left) and Matt Pennetti, 38, said Tuesday they welcomed the new city’s mandate to require patrons of bars, restaurants and gyms show proof of vaccination.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Mallory Harris, manager of Surf’s Up restaurant, 2236 E 71st St. in South Shore, welcomed the mandate.

“It makes our staff and our customers safer. I’m happy about it,” Harris said.

George Karzas, owner of Jefferson Park’s Gale Street Inn, was not surprised by the new requirement, and supports it, but said it’s unfortunate that enforcement is up to restaurants.

“I think the real difficult part is that it puts the onus on the operator. Overall, it’s probably needed to slow it down.”

Ramon Aguirre, owner of Bella Notte Ristorante in West Town, said the new mandate is another hardship for restaurants.

“It puts us in a tough spot trying to police our customers,” Aguirre said.

“We have a hard enough job as it is with the supply chain problems that caused our food costs to rise,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of curveballs that were thrown our way the last couple years,” he said, though he noted another shutdown “would cripple the industry.”

Karzas, who closed the Gale Street Inn before the state mandate in 2020 and stayed closed longer than required to install air filtration equipment, may again become carry-out-only for two or three months.

“It’s no one’s fault. It just is what it is,” Karzas said.

Will O’Donnell, also shopping in Wicker Park Tuesday, said the new requirements were important but other major cities have implemented similar measures already.

He scoffed at leaving enforcement to restaurants and bars. After all, he said, its nearly two years since the pandemic started, and most Chicago bars, restaurants, and gyms had not put any such requirements in place on their own.

So while it may be too late, O’Donnell said, “I am tired of this, and I want it to be over.”

Valerie Ortega left a nearby gym with her yoga mat in hand just as Lightfoot was announcing the new measures. The 27-year-old smiled and said she would go to the gym more frequently, knowing everyone was vaccinated.

“I know we all have to come to the realization that we are going to have to now live with COVID as a part of our lives but making sure gym goers and people in bars are vaxxed will put more of an ease on my mind,” Ortega said.