Metro-east business owners expressed relief after word spread Friday that restaurants and bars could reopen for indoor service after more than a month under extra COVID-19 restrictions.
Mary Gutzler, operations manager at Copper Fire in downtown Belleville, said she and her team were “ecstatic” upon hearing the news.
The restaurant normally seats 160 people, and under Phase 4 restaurant guidelines of Illinois’ reopening plan, they’ll be able to seat 25% of their capacity at tables 6 feet apart along with space at the bar.
Restaurants must still comply with capacity limits and other guidelines under the state’s reopening plan. Parties of more than 10 people are still banned and masks are required for patrons when interacting with employees, who must also wear masks.
Good Heavens BBQ owner Kattie Williams-Goodwin said while her East St. Louis restaurant is too small to maintain 6 feet of distance between tables, she plans to put some chairs back in place for people waiting on takeout orders. That will be especially welcome for elderly customers, Williams-Goodwin said.
She’s slightly concerned customers might choose to go to restaurants where they can dine in, however, she said.
“We’ll find out within the next couple of weeks,” Williams-Goodwin said.
Local chambers of commerce also rejoiced. Dawn Mushill, executive director of the Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Chamber of Commerce, said her members have struggled not just since extra COVID-19 resurgence restrictions were added Aug. 18, but “for six long, long, long months.” With cold weather around the corner, Mushill said lifting the rules helped businesses avoid closure.
Mushill wrote multiple letters to Gov. J.B. Pritzker after the additional restrictions went into place, telling him how businesses were suffering and asking for revised rules. Mushill’s family has personally felt the pain. Her mother and sister own Sue’s Corner in Granite City.
She hopes customers will play their part in keeping bars and restaurants open through the winter by wearing masks, following state safety guidelines and adhering to whatever rules individual businesses have in place.
“My hope is people understand that this has been hard for family businesses. They put all their money into this then were shut down,” said Mushill, whose mother has been a bartender for 58 years. “Customers need to be good customers.”
Some restaurants decided to defy restrictions put in place by Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health to slow what became a rapid spread of COVID-19 following the Fourth of July in the metro-east, and at least two have faced citations from Illinois State Police in recent weeks. Mushill said not every business can afford to pay fines or face the loss of a liquor or gaming license.
“We’ve had some chamber members and non-chamber members open,” Mushill said. “It’s hard for the other businesses that go, ‘That’s money I’m losing right there.’ But you have to do what you’re comfortable with. If you don’t feel comfortable putting your liquor license on the line, you do what you have to.”
Cory Flament, owner of FlamentCo’s: The Place Pizza in O’Fallon and St. Louis, said while his business relies solely on delivery and takeout, he’s happy for his fellow restaurant owners who can once again provide indoor dining.
“These are our brothers and sisters,” Flament said. “ … The more people trust food, the more we’re going to benefit in the long run.”
Flament shifted his entire business model to focus on delivery and takeout because of the rapidly changing nature of rules restricting restaurants.
“We were told we could be open but then we were told to close,” Flament said. “We changed our model because of this contested environment.”
State health officials reported 2,818 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, including 35 additional deaths, for a total of 313,518 cases and 8,945 deaths since the pandemic began.