Taylor Street businesses say thanks, but no thanks, to street closures aimed at helping restaurants
“We hate to say it but this is ruining us and we don’t see how we are going to make it through if these street closures continue,” one business owner said.
Last Friday, Paul and Carole Rinaldi hoped business at their hardware store in Little Italy would finally begin picking back up after months of a state-ordered shutdown and limits on capacities had a harsh financial impact.
When the husband and wife duo arrived around 9 a.m. to open the doors at Chiarugi Hardware at 1412 W. Taylor St., they saw the street was blocked off from Loomis Street to Ashland Avenue. Carole, who has a walking disability, was barely able to make the trek to their storefront.
The hardware store, which has been in business for 65 years, ended up earning just $50 after being open for nine hours that day — and pulled in similar amounts the next two days. That is significantly less than normal, the couple says.
The street blockage is part of a pilot program Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced at the end of May designed to increase foot traffic to restaurant corridors across the city. The idea is to grant eateries the ability to use streets for outdoor dining to help struggling businesses bring in more customers while safely practicing social distancing.
But Chiarugi and some other Taylor Street businesses — including restaurants — say though they realize the street closures were done with good intentions, they are unintentionally having a negative impact.
“We are a hardware store and rely on people coming here with their cars,” Paul Rinaldi said. “We can’t expect for someone to walk a half-mile carrying a bag of concrete, can we?”
His wife said she would like to see the street closures shorten to start at 5 p.m. when many restaurants are busiest.
“We hate to say it but this is ruining us and we don’t see how we are going to make it through if these street closures continue,” Carole Rinaldi said.
Hali Levandoski, a city spokeswoman, said street closures like these — including similar measures on Randolph Street in the West Loop and Broadway in Lake View —were coordinated by local chambers of commerce or groups of restaurants. The city’s main job is ensuring road closures.
“Pilots were based on active chambers and high concentrations of restaurants, and plans were then adapted as necessary based on the needs of businesses in the area,” Levandoski said.
The West Central Association Chamber of Commerce, which led the move to close Taylor Street, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
While the association’s website says the pilot continues only through this weekend, street signs say no parking will be allowed on Taylor from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. Fridays through Sundays through Oct. 31.
The Rinaldis and other businesses said they weren’t consulted about the closure in advance.
The Italian grocer Conte Di Savoia, 1438 W. Taylor St., said there is not enough foot traffic to keep the store busy in the middle of the day.
“Without the street parking it is really killing us,” said Frank DiCosola, who helps run the family-owned business. “... The whole stretch around mid-day is kind of dead around here with no one walking around, so it’s not doing us any favors.”
The first weekend of the program saw only a few restaurants even take part by putting tables in the street. Workers at one of those, Hawkeye’s Bar at 1458 W Taylor St., said they initially saw it as a way to recoup some of their losses due to the pandemic.
“We were waiting for a few weeks for it to happen, and when it finally did happen, it was on the same day when we were able to reopen the inside, which seems a bit counterproductive,” manager Samantha Barron said. “It just seems like it is hurting more than it is helping because cars are just driving past the roadblocks and we get phone calls of people thinking we are closed.”
It’s also hurting their curbside pickup for to-go orders, which is a vital source of revenue, especially in bad weather — like last weekend.
“They don’t know how to get to us with the streets close, and when it is raining, we don’t know if we are breaking rules by allowing people to stand inside as they wait since they can’t wait in their car,” Barron said.
Barron said they are unlikely to put tables in the street again this weekend.
Marco DiMarco, manager of Rosebud, was happy the city was taking steps to try and help restaurants, but he feels the rollout didn’t come soon enough to be beneficial.
“Extending my patio was an excellent idea when it was first proposed, but I think the opportunity was lost when we were allowed to begin indoor seating,” DiMarco said. “In my mind it is it’s too little, too late.”