Chicago Pride: LGBTQ+ business owners share how they survived pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- LGBTQ+ businesses owners are sharing the struggles they faced during the pandemic, and how they managed to survive amid safety restrictions and shutdowns.

Stronghands Gym on Broadway is the city's first LGBTQ+ gym. It opened three months before the pandemic shut down the world.

"I was definitely worried because, you know, I had investors," owner Diego Cevallos-Garzon said. "You get investors, they want a return."

Cevallos-Garzon said if it wasn't for help from his landlord, and his loyal customers who continued to pay him dues, he wouldn't have made it.

"It's emotional. You know, there's days where I've called some of my members and broke down and some of my, even my trainers who have left other big facilities to be here because they believed in what we were doing," he said. "And it's kind of an emotion you can't explain coming from my background, because this is all I have. I put everything that I have into this. "

SEE ALSO | ABC7 presents half-hour special 'Our Chicago: Celebrating Pride' with Terrell Brown, Tanja Babich



The Northalsted Business Alliance said all of its establishments survived. However, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce said eight businesses closed due to the pandemic.

Skin Care for Gents in Andersonville powered through and now facials are in full force.

"Yeah, the darkest point. So early 2020, without business, we weren't making any money," said Joshua Chato. He also opened up just months before the pandemic.

"We were riding such a, such a high," he said. "We were doing so well, that the rug was just completely pulled from underneath us. "

Chato said he was able to get some federal loans and they pivoted by selling at-home skin care kits online.

"And once we were able to kind of reopen with masks, that kind of that still enabled us to do waxing, and some grooming services for our customers," he said. "But facials, which was the bulk of our business, just weren't happening. So that was a huge concern, because we didn't know when that was going to reopen, and how long that was going to last."

Paul Ruffino, owner of Rattleback Records, expanded during the pandemic.

"The store next to us decided to take all of their business online," Ruffino said. "And so that shop was closed, and we were bursting at the seams."

Business is rocking at the Andersonville record shop. Owners said it turns out people were craving the escape of music during the pandemic. But there were times when Ruffino thought his small business dream was coming to an end.

"We closed - shuttered our doors - and we were closed for three months," Ruffino said. "It was very concerning, you know, because we, you know, had to continue to pay rent and I didn't want to lose my employees."
Martin Cournane, owner of The Bird Cage, is also recalled how his business struggled.

"It was completely devastating," he said. "You know, I have other restaurants, too. So I own a few restaurants and you know, like, our world is shifting every 24 hours."

The Bird Cage restaurant and lounge in Andersonville features drag shows and show tunes. The business, which was formally known as Octavio Cantina and Kitchen, utilized the pandemic to reinvent itself with a catchy new name and concept. For the redesign, they hired local artists and designers who were out of work.

"There's a lot of hope, a lot of excitement and everyone here at The Birdcage, we're just really excited to have no restrictions and really take the gloves off and have a really good summer and celebrate that we made it," Cournane said.

You can find more Pride stories on abc7chicago.com/pride. "Our Chicago: Celebrating Pride" airs Saturday at 6 p.m. on ABC7.
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