St. Patrick’s Day parades in Chicago ‘postponed’ amid coronavirus worries, Lightfoot says

The dyeing of the Chicago River, a tradition since 1962, will also be postponed.

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More than 100 signs advertising the South Side Irish Parade are still affixed to light poles along Western Avenue from 103rd to 115th Streets in Beverly.

In the heavily Irish neighborhood on the Far South Side, the parade is serious business.

But this year — with all city-sanctioned St. Patrick’s Day celebrations put off amid fears of the spreading coronavirus — will be different.

The Chicago River and much of the rest of the city will be a lot less green this weekend, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot — citing coronavirus concerns — “postponed” three large St. Patrick’s Day parades and the dyeing of the river.

“As you might imagine, this was not an easy decision…,” Lightfoot said Wednesday at a news conference that included Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “Like cities across the nation, we concluded that having a parade at this time posed an unnecessary risk to the public.”

The cities of Boston and Dublin have canceled their parades — and Lightfoot had been under pressure for days to do the same here.

Barney Callaghan’s Pub sits at 10618 S. Western Ave., three blocks south of the South Side Irish Parade’s typical starting point. The bar’s owner, Bernard Callaghan, said that since the parade was nixed Wednesday morning, he’s had to adjust his staffing and stocking plans for the weekend. The day of the parade is always “one of our busiest days of the year,” he said.

Without the huge influx of people in the typically quiet, residential neighborhood, many independently owned local businesses will suffer because “all that money [spent on the day of the parade] goes back into the neighborhood,” Callaghan said.

“It’s a shame because so many people count on this,” said the Callaghan’s bartender, who declined to give his name.

Asked if the lack of a parade would impact the many neighborhood house parties that coincide with the usual festivities, the bartender said: “This won’t stop ’em.”

Callaghan has owned the bar — formerly known as Keegan’s — since 1990. He said losing this year’s parade reminded him of 2009, when the festivities were axed for three years because of the raucous crowds.

The downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade was to be held Saturday along Columbus Drive. The South Side Irish and Northwest Irish parades were scheduled for Sunday.

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A decision hasn’t yet been made about whether to cancel the annual Shamrock Shuffle, a downtown 8K run set for March 22, Lightfoot said.

While as of Wednesday, there are 25 confirmed coronavirus cases in Illinois and the virus isn’t spreading widely here, Lightfoot said she was postponing the events out of an “abundance of caution.”

“God forbid we see a spread or spike based upon this kind of public event; none of us wanted that,” Lightfoot said.

Asked whether people should avoid bars and restaurants over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, Lightfoot said: “The reality is, we’re not shutting down the entire city and the state, but we want people to be smart … and exercise common sense.”

Pritzker said Lightfoot’s decision was “the right call.”

“We all know what the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations mean to all of us in the city of Chicago, but we, as elected leaders, can’t take any chances with the health of our residents,” Pritzker said.

James Coyne, business manager for Plumbers Local 130 UA, which has sponsored the downtown parade for about 50 years, also voiced his support for Lightfoot’s decision.

“These are unchartered waters, and to make this decision is the right decision,” said Coyne, who was also at Wednesday’s news conference.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose Beverly ward hosts the South Side parade, agreed: “At times like this, it’s absolutely imperative that we rely on the expertise of our medical professionals.”

New dates for these events were not announced, though Lightfoot said she expects this to be a “postponement,” not a cancellation.

The parade decisions were not entirely unexpected. For days, Lightfoot, who has just returned from a brief spring break trip, has faced pressure to call off the parades — including from Pritzker. The fear was that having so many people in one place — potentially hundreds of thousands — could increase the risk of the coronavirus spreading within the community.

The dyeing of the Chicago River and the downtown parade have been yearly traditions since 1962. The South Side Irish Parade dates back to 1979.

Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said he was disappointed but not at all surprised by the mayor’s decision.

“This is one of the bigger weekends of the year in the hospitality industry. There’s no question. Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day. St. Patty’s Day and the holiday season. These are the top five days of the year,” Toia said.

“I understand what the mayor is doing. She’s being pragmatic. We don’t know the magnitude of this. ... It would be obviously very hard to track — if someone does have the coronavirus, one or two people — where did they go throughout the whole day.” 

Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, called the decision a “huge hit” for Chicago hotels. He noted that out-of-town visitors and even suburbanites normally fill downtown hotel rooms during St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

“Whether you were marching yourself or you were a spectator, it’s a big tourism magnet with the parade,” Jacobson said.

“It just compiles on top of the Housewares convention, which also was scheduled for check-in on Saturday. So, it’s a double-hit in the same weekend for hotels throughout Chicago.”

Jacobson said he’s thrilled the parades are being “postponed” — not canceled.

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