CHICAGO - As winter approaches, some restaurant owners are now pushing the city to expand indoor dining, saying it is their last lifeline.
However, the city insists the coronavirus numbers are just not right yet.
After almost 50 years in business, Lawry's in River North is the latest COVID restaurant casualty, announcing it will be closing its doors permanently. Fifty other restaurants have had to close, even with outdoor seating and good weather. Now the big question becomes: how will others survive a long Chicago winter?
“We've been hemorrhaging out here,” said Sam Toia.
Toia with the Illinois Restaurant Association says the situation is dire and the current 25-percent indoor capacity limit imposed by the city needs to double for restaurants to survive.
“We really gotta increase the capacity here in the city of Chicago. We need to increase the hours from 11pm back up to 2am would be great, but maybe 1am, serving liquor so restaurants can get a 2nd or 3rd seating,” Toia said.
Dozens of restaurant owners have sent a letter to the mayor, asking for 50-percent indoor capacity, but health officials say that will depend on the city's positivity rate, which is right now over 5-percent.
“We definitely want to see that below 5-percent. It's gotta be there before we feel confident about being able to loosen restrictions,” said Dr. Allison Arwady of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
On Monday, the city released winter guidelines for outdoor tents, domes and heaters. But those will not even be an option for restaurants with no patio space.
“If you don't have the real estate, the outdoor dining or the streets to do it in, it could be very difficult,” Toia said.
One restaurant general manager that FOX 32 talked to says restaurants may need to start teaming up with their neighbors to survive.
“We've seen restaurants that have really limited indoor capacity partnering with businesses next door, or the door over, that have space,” said Jeremiah Duncan, general manager of Wood Restaurant.
The Illinois Restaurant Association is lobbying federal lawmakers for a bailout package, similar to what the banking and auto industry got, to the tune of $120 billion. Independent restaurants and chains of under 20 locations would qualify.