Thousands losing work as nightlife in Chicago shuts down as COVID-19 pandemic continues

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's vibrant nightlife and weekends as we knew them are over for the foreseeable future. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, deejays, entertainers, performers, and music and light technicians across the city are not working, and venues are closed.

"It's a ghost town," said Kice Akkawi, owner of Treblemonsters.

Chicago's nightlife is over, at least for the upcoming weeks. Akkawi manages ten artists and is the music director at 20 venues throughout Chicago, including some in the West Loop.

"We're silent. We're muted. It's like taking the remote control and just pressing the mute button," said Akkawi, who had 220 bookings cancelled just for March. "There's a lot of anxiety with a lot of people not knowing what to do, where to go, and what's next."

The entertainers are now unemployed.

In fact, nationwide, there were 280,000 initial unemployment claims last week, which is the highest number in 2.5 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In Illinois, there were almost 11,000 new claims, an increase of 25% from the week before.

And it's not just individual artists, it's also venues, like The Hideout, a Chicago nightspot around before prohibition. The Hideout's co-owner says they have 32 employees, and COVID-19 is impacting employment at smaller venues across Illinois.

"Thousands of employees who are bartenders, sound people, bar backs, musicians, bands, everyone is out of work this weekend," said Tim Tuten, co-owner of The Hideout.
With nightlife shut down, artists and venues are creating websites. There's the Chicago Entertainment Relief page, and Chicago Service Relief.

The Hideout is one of the venues with a GoFundMe page, and they've been able to raise more than $25,000 dollars. Tuten says they'll use the money to pay the Hideout's employees during this time.

"These are the very people that are the lifeblood, the heart and soul of our city," Tuten said. "They are the reason why when we think of Chicago, we think about blues, we think about jazz, we think about rock, we think about the nightlife, the cultural scene we have in this country. And that has all been stopped."

While Akkawi and Tuten appreciate the community support, they also want any government legislation, from the federal to local level, to include subcontractors, like entertainers, and hospitality industry workers.

It's their hard work, Tuten said, that makes Chicago a vibrant city and attracts visitors from other areas.

"Right now, this virus is hopefully making people clearly see the essential importance of our clubs."

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The windows of several stores have been boarded up on the Magnificent Mile and in the Gold Coast neighborhood.

Some business owners in Chicago are also taking steps to protect their stores during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The windows of several stores have been boarded up on the Magnificent Mile and in the Gold Coast neighborhood.

All non-essential businesses are closed during the pandemic.
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