Businesses in Chicago's underground tunnels struggle to survive as people slowly return to Loop

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As Chicago's Loop continues to reopen, there is another network of stores and restaurants that many people may not know about -- they're underground.

But how many of those local businesses survived, while others were forced to close during the pandemic.

It's a way to get around most of Chicago's Loop to avoid sweltering summers and bone-chilling winters.

"No one really knows it's down here. It's like one of the hidden gems in Chicago," said Frank Salgavo, a manager at Chicago Kernel located underneath Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street by a Metra station. "There used to be a lot of foot traffic, people coming in and out of the city, going to and from work. But during the pandemic, it was just very slow."

The city's Pedway system, built in 1951, connects more than 40 blocks in the Central Business District and has dozens of stores and restaurants.



"We almost had to close the store. A lot of places didn't make it," said Salgavo, who told the I-Team that Chicago Kernel had to close down another location in the Thompson Center to survive in the Pedway location.

"The Pedway is really a distinct and underutilized, special asset of Chicago," said Kiana DiStasi of the Chicago Loop Alliance.

She said it was shuttered for much of the pandemic, eliminating tens of thousands of pedestrians a day before it reopened around the springtime of 2021.

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Even now there are challenges.

"We're seeing pedestrian levels up on State Street and kind of the upper levels of downtown in the Loop. Coming back to in March there were levels of 70% 80% sometimes 90% of pre pandemic 2019 levels, whereas the pedestrian levels down the Pedway are really staying under 30%," DiStasi said.

Dalia Harrington, the owner of Millennium Taco and Dogs, said there were dark times but she believes business will boom again with increased Metra traffic.

"I was -- it was hard to pay rent. I was worried about this but my landlord gave us a discount a little bit. The landlord was really nice. It helps. It really helps," she said.

The I-Team did find that several businesses with gates down, locks and closed signs Even those which remain open are hoping they can continue to bring people down.

The Chicago Loop Alliance said it does not keep track of which businesses in the Loop and the Pedway closed down during the pandemic, but a report from Stone Real Estate said the Loop's 2021 vacancy rate was more than a 27%. That's a small increase from its 2020 report.
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