Chicago restaurants say indoor dining must reopen for them to survive winter during COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago restaurant owners are asking Mayor Lori Lightfoot to ramp up pressure on Gov. JB Pritzker to restore indoor dining so they can survive the winter.

Lunch time in Fulton Market brought a few patrons willing to sit outside, but restaurant owners say they are struggling mightily due to the COVID-19 restrictions, and their industry has been unfairly targeted.

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"We cannot, cannot put the burden of containing the virus on our restaurants primarily," said Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association.

Romanelli is calling for Mayor Lightfoot to put pressure on Pritzker to restore indoor dining after a recent study by researchers at Northwestern and Stanford universities that found that full lockdowns are not necessary if masking, social distancing and 20% occupancy is enforced.

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"The fact that restaurant, after restaurant, after restaurant is shuttered and some are never coming back, this is a hardship on our city," Lightfoot said. "It is wreaking havoc on our economy. But we've got to do it, and I think people of good will understand that; we've got to do it when the science tells us it's safe."

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But many restaurant owners say trying to sustain a business without indoor service during the winter is not feasible.

"To invest $5,000 to $10,000 in an outdoor enclosure, to heat it, get the electrical to bring it up to the standards the city requires, just to be told I'm going to have to take it down, you can't make that kind of an investment," said Jodi Agee of Jefferson tap.

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"We have to understand that these family-owned restaurants are on the brink of closure forever, and taking their jobs with them forever," Romanelli said.

Next week, restaurant owners will have a Zoom call to discuss how to save their industry. They have invited Mayor Lightfoot to take part, but she did not say whether or not she will join in.

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She did, however, react fairly negatively to the way the invitation was extended, suggesting the Fulton Market Association hasn't asked her for a meeting yet and that it's poor form to go through the media instead of reaching out directly.
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