Chicago businesses ready to celebrate Magnificent Mile Lights Festival in person this year

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Businesses along the Magnificent Mile are eager to welcome thousands of festival-goers who are expected to come to BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Lights Festival this weekend.

Whether it's eating at a restaurant or booking a hotel, businesses are ready to serve customers from near and far.

SEE ALSO | ABC7 Chicago kicks off holiday season with Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

A long-time Chicago staple, Ed Debevic's, is one of the restaurants, opening again at East Ohio St. and North St. Clair St., just steps from Michigan Avenue.

"This is our official grand opening weekend, and the Mag Mile Light Festival is back, this is a huge weekend, not just for us, but all of the city of Chicago. We're very, very excited," said Loren "Johnny Angel" Agron, a manager at Ed Debevic's.

That is the the sentiment for businesses right now - excitement.

Ed Debevic's was slated to open April 2020, during the pandemic. Thursday is now the restaurant's grand opening, followed by a weekend of first-come, first-served service.

It seems everyone is ready for the parade.

"For us its special, when our children were growing up, we were always done here at the parade at the Mag Mile. We are Chicagoans. We just love it," said Jack Finlayson, a Ed Debevic's customer celebrating his 42nd wedding anniversary.

Finlayson's wife, Ruth, chimed in about the parade as well. "We are looking forward to seeing it this year. Mickey Mouse, can't wait to see him," Ruth Finlayson laughed.

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are the grand marshals, illuminating one million lights along the route. Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are also marking the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World with their appearance.

The parade's return is a bright spot, especially after the pandemic forced some businesses to close, leaving storefronts vacant along the iconic shopping district.

The Magnificent Mile Association's president said the event costs about $1 million dollars. A $400,000 state grant helped bring back the event that so many families treasure.

"We needed a celebration," said Kimberly Bares, President & CEO, The Magnificent Mile Association. "We needed to welcome families to North Michigan Avenue, to fill our hotels and restaurants and retail, to start our holidays the only way we can."

The state grant, she said, was an important part of the festival's financing, adding it wouldn't have happened without the extra money.

"The state of Illinois wanted to ensure that this festival returns bigger and better than ever, I'm proud that our tourism grant could help ensure it had the funding," Governor Pritzker said.

Ultimately, the Magnificent Mile Association wants this weekend to be a financial boost similar to before the pandemic.

In 2019, according to the association, more than 10,000 hotel rooms were booked during the Lights Festival weekend. Business sales hit $26 million dollars, and 16,000 employees were busy working, event organizers said.

Michael Jacobson, President & CEO, Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, said he expects 10,000 rooms to be booked this weekend, especially since prices for a room on the Mag Mile are still available at $200.

Jacobson is optimistic about the weekend, but he also understands occupancy rates will be a challenge before convention and business travel picks up again.

"We're much better than where we were," Jacobson said. "We still have a long ways to go. During the week, we have hotels in single digits of occupancy, which is not sustainable. It's because business travel isn't back."

The weekend should provide a financial boost to hotels, restaurants, and retail.

At Ed Debevic's, they are ready to roll.

"We are ready to open the curtains and get the show started," Agron proclaimed.

The fun begins Friday at 4 p.m. with a tree lighting at the Wrigley Building. Saturday is packed with family events 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the parade steps off at 5:30 p.m.

If you can't make it out, you can watch a broadcast of the parade on ABC7 this Sunday at 6 p.m. You can catch rebroadcasts at 6 p.m. on Sunday, December 11 and at 8 a.m. on Christmas morning.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.