Local businesses gear up for full return: ‘It feels like New Year’s Eve’

Luis Centeno at his gym, Fit Results, 731 S. Plymouth Ct. in the Loop on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

Luis Centeno at his gym, Fit Results, 731 S. Plymouth Ct. in the Loop on Wednesday. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Humboldt Park restaurant owner Zoraida Rivera-Tañón said the reopening couldn’t come at a better time for her struggling business.

Last year, Luis Centeno remembered, he thought a weeklong shutdown of his gym was a good thing if it meant saving lives and mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

“Everyone thought it was going to be just a one-or-three-week lockdown. Then it turned into a month. Then, almost a-year-and-a-half later, and we are just barely coming out of it,” said Centeno, founder of Fit Results.

On Friday, Chicago will end a year of restrictions on crowd size, indoor gatherings and the like caused by a global pandemic which has claimed millions of lives, including nearly 600,000 in the United States.

But reopening doesn’t mean an end of the pandemic or a complete return to normal. Artifacts of a pandemic world will remain, such as mask-wearing in certain settings, hand sanitizer pumps at business entrances or clear plastic guards in separating customers from store cashiers. But it will mean people can freely gather en masse.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said moving to unrestricted crowd size should be welcomed as a sign of the sacrifices made to keep people safe. It was time, she said, to rebuild and support the local economy.

“Our city cannot fully bounce back from the pandemic until the cultural, retail and financial engines that power our economy are able to return at full capacity,” Lightfoot said Thursday.

Closing streets to keep businesses open

The city is taking every opportunity to celebrate the reopening.

On Thursday, it announced the Central City Recovery Roadmap to help revitalize downtown businesses. That includes working with private groups to boost foot traffic with occasional closings of Michigan Avenue, LaSalle Street and State Street.

“Meet me on the Mile,” is intended to lure residents and tourists to shop, dine and check out “Instagrammable” installations along the Magnificent Mile. “Lunch on LaSalle” will create pop-up dining for downtown workers, residents and visitors on the street with the iconic view of the Board of Trade building.

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The previously-announced “Sundays on State” will close that street to vehicles, from Madison to Lake streets, for live music and other performances every Sunday, starting July 11.

Also, the city is partnering with museums to stay open late on Friday.

Opportunity Insights’ Economic Tracker has monitored the impact of COVID-19 on local economies since the pandemic began. It reported that at the end of May, the number of small businesses open in Chicago dropped by 40% since January 2020.

For Centeno, “it’s about time” the city ends those restrictions, because he’s seen businesses around him collapse. He is ready to return to how his gym operated before the pandemic, with packed workout classes.

“We aren’t ever getting rid of hand sanitizer and we have this full airflow system we installed and will keep using,” Centeno said. And he will still require customers to wear masks in his facility, “but …read more

Source:: Chicago Sun Times

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