CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago is expanding outdoor dining this weekend, hoping to help cash-strapped restaurants make up a lot of lost revenue.
CBS 2’s Jeremy Ross reports city officials closed streets in 10 neighborhoods this weekend, to allow restaurants more space for outdoor seating.
In the West Loop, the service drives on a stretch of Randolph Street were shut down to accommodate diners.
The dining pace in parts of Chicago is starting to pick up, in part because of what’s closed down.
“It’s nice to finally have everyone outside,” one diner said.
“I understand it can be problematic for commuters, but there’s workarounds for that,” Derek Spies said.
Select street closures in Andersonville, Chatham, Chinatown, Edison Park, Lincoln Park, Little Italy, the Lower West Side, the Gold Coast, West Lakeview, and the West Loop have turned traffic lanes into makeshift dining spaces, allowing for a bite beside a barrier, or a meal by the median.
It’s allowing for much more for people like Steve Cin, who oversees three bars and restaurants near Rush and Division.
“Essentially this is like a lifeline for us to keep going,” he said.
Cin said closing down the area for dining allows him to make about 25% more in sales; a number critically important for the upkeep of his business, and to maintain jobs. He employs about 100 workers, but that number was about 300 before the pandemic.
“We can survive, but it’s just very challenging,” he said.
Spies enjoyed the treats beside traffic on Saturday; and even more so the less-than-familiar feeling of doing so with friends.
“This is the first time I’ve been out,” he said.
After reopening bars and restaurants, spikes in COVID-19 cases have once again crippled parts of the dining industry in parts of the U.S., with closures or dining restrictions being served up again in states like Arizona, California and Texas.
Although there has been a recent rise in cases in Illinois, cases here haven’t surged nearly as dramatically as states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida.
People taking advantage of the outdoor dining program this weekend praised Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker for taking a strong stance and enforcing tough restrictions to limit the spread of the virus over the last few months.
Restaurant operators are hoping to expand outdoor dining options even further, cooperating with city leaders and aldermen on how to plan these events.
In order to be successful, they also need cooperation with Mother Nature, and that’s never a guarantee this time of year.