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Raindrops, reps and relief on first day of Illinois’ Phase 4 reopening

Gyms and indoor restaurant seating were back Friday with the next phase of Illinois’ reopening from the coronavirus shutdown.

George’s Gyros owner Elaine Sakellariou (with mask) pictured with staff on Friday, the first day of Illinois’ Phase 4 reopening.
George’s Gyros owner Elaine Sakellariou (with mask) pictured with staff on Friday, the first day of Illinois’ Phase 4 reopening.
Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Relief.

That’s all Elaine Sakellariou felt as she seated her first customers in three months Friday morning at George’s Gyros, 3445 S. Halsted St.

“It just brings back life to this place,” said Sakellariou, who owns the restaurant her father opened more than 40 year ago.

She’d been able to get through the heart of the coronavirus pandemic with gift card sales and takeout orders from loyal customers, but Illinois’ Phase 4 reopening couldn’t come soon enough for the Bridgeport joint — or any of the thousands of other restaurants across the state that are now allowed to seat customers inside at 25% capacity.

“It’s a good thing I saved,” Sakellariou said.

A handful of regulars were back like clockwork by the time she opened, but some of the older clientele hesitate to venture back out with COVID-19 still looming, she said.

“A little bit of normalcy — I haven’t felt this in awhile,” customer Robert Bell said. “It feels good.”

Sharon McKennie had been able to set up a few tables for the last month outside her Austin neighborhood institution MacArthur’s Restaurant, 5412 W. Madison St., so Friday’s rainy weather provided an early test of the 25% indoor seating capacity limit.

Robert Mathews heads in to the Logan Square Planet Fitness for hist first indoor pandemic workout.
Robert Mathews heads in to the Logan Square Planet Fitness for hist first indoor pandemic workout.
Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

“Unfortunately the rain kept people off the patio, but it’s good having some people back inside,” McKennie said. “We’re a family-oriented restaurant, so it’s just good to be able to see more people again.”

For many Chicagoans, Phase 4 also meant finally starting to work off some of those quarantine pounds. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan allows health and fitness clubs to reopen at 50% capacity, though that’s limited to 25% in the city, with classes capped at 50 people.

“I am a little uncomfortable,” Robert Mathews said before entering a Planet Fitness in Logan Square, 2719 N. California Ave. “This is like a test run. I don’t even know if I’ve got to wear my mask.”

(The Illinois Department of Public Health urges the use of masks, but does not require them while exercising. Local jurisdictions can issue stricter guidelines if they choose, and in Chicago, you do have to wear a mask while exercising in gyms. )

“Basically I’ve been on my ass since quarantine started. Home workouts aren’t really doing it. I’ve gained 15 pounds,” said Mathews, 30, a poker player.

“I’m kind of just here to check it out,” he said, adding he was wary of being around a lot of other people.

Omar Cervantes said other gym-goers were on their best socially distant behavior as he completed his first indoor workout in more than three months, at the Bronzeville LA Fitness, 3435 S. King Drive. Machines were spaced out, lockers were closed and spray bottles were plentiful.

Omar Cervantes, pictured outside the Bronzeville LA Fitness center.
Omar Cervantes worked out Friday at the LA Fitness center in Bronzeville,
Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

After months of getting his exercise mostly by running through the Back of the Yards neighborhood, Cervantes said he was happy to hit the weights again.

“It was just relieving, being able to do something different finally,” he said.

The masked workouts will take some getting used to, though.

“It gets pretty sweaty pretty quick. I had to stop and pull it off a few times for a quick breather,” Cervantes said.

Illinoisans will soon have other recreation options available in Phase 4, too, including pools, bowling alleys, skating rinks and movie theaters — a handful of which are resuming operations in the suburbs, though options in the city remain sparse.

Museums will also reopen at limited capacities, with the Shedd Aquarium announcing it’ll welcome back members Wednesday and the general public on Friday. Reopening dates haven’t been announced for the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute of Chicago.

Lincoln Park Zoo’s outdoor exhibits are reopening Monday; reservations are required but free. Tickets and reservations also are required at Brookfield Zoo, which reopens to members Wednesday and to the general public July 8.