There is a new push to reopen Chicago restaurants, as the Fulton Market Association and newly formed "Chicago Restaurant Coalition" (CRC) are calling on city leaders to restore indoor dining at 20% capacity by January 15.
"Today is the day to end the scapegoating as one of the primary causes of Covid spread," said Roger Romanelli, Executive Director of the Fulton Market Association.
Citing a Northwestern University study, and data from Chicago's Department of Public Health, Romanelli says there is no statistical link between restaurants and the spread of coronavirus. This point is made more evident, according to Romanelli, by the current ban on indoor dining in the city.
"Despite indoor dining closures, obviously we are seeing continued spread throughout our city and region with the horrible COVID virus," he said.
The closure is having an immense impact on small restaurants. Jodi Agee has owned Jefferson Tap and Grille for 19 years and says her sales are down 50% in just one month, and she's had to furlough 10 employees.
"Emotionally and physically it’s the worst stress I’ve ever been under in my entire life," said Agee. "I need guests. I need customers in my chairs to make money. I don’t have that right now."
In addition to restoring indoor dining, the group is calling on the mayor to join a Zoom call on Tuesday to discuss increased funding for restaurant grants. Specifically, CRC wants $50 million in additional funding to be distributed through the Hospitality Grants Program.
"These family owned restaurants are on the brink of closure forever and taking their jobs with them forever," said Romanelli.
Closing temporarily or even permanently is something Agee is seriously considering. She, like many others, is making difficult decisions on a daily basis. Agee says outdoor dining on her uncovered patio is unsustainable in the winter and providing takeout service is expensive.
"I don’t know how much more I can take," said Agee. "The pandemic has devastated me."
CRC is also calling on ComEd to delay electricity bill payments for January 1 through Apr. 30 of next year.
When asked about CRC demands at a press briefing, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she would consider meeting with the group but did not appreciate being "called out through the media."
"I’m anxious as anybody to get restaurants back open," said Mayor Lightfoot. "Some are never coming back. This is a hardship on our city. 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."