By Erick Johnson
The chairs are on tables and the cash registers are silent. Chicago’s Black restaurants on the South and West Sides were among numerous eateries forced to close Monday to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic that has now killed nealry 8,000 people worldwide.
The closure is effective until March 30, but questions remain as to whether Black restaurants and their employees can survive if the closure is extended indefinitely.
Governor J.B. Pritzker gave the order Sunday afternoon, one day after many Chicago patrons held St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the city. Pritzker’s order was aimed at preventing the large public gatherings that restaurants draw with dine-in services. New Jersey and Connecticut have mandated similar measures.
In the Black community, many dine-in restaurants obeyed the orders as Chicago Public Schools experienced its first day of closure.
Peaches, a breakfast eatery in Bronzeville, saw its last business day on Sunday because it is closed on Monday as part of its normal business schedule.
At Norm’s Bistro at 43rd Street and Ellis in Bronzeville, the doors were locked and the dining area empty. The Slice of Bronzeville pizza eatery was also closed, but a sign on the door said it had planned to open on Tuesday, March 17.
There were few crowds on Bronzeville’s bustling business district on 47th street.
McDonalds on Stony Island and Marquette Drive stayed opened for take-out orders, but closed its dine-in area as part of its national effort to stop the spread of the virus.
On the West Side, the phone at McArthur’s restaurant kept ringing, but no one answered.
Many Black restaurants remained opened with their take-out service, which is allowed under the state mandate.
At the historic Daley’s restaurant in Woodlawn, one employee said business at their take-out service was steady most of the business day Tuesday March 17.
An employee at the Sip and Savor eatery said the same thing. At Culver’s restaurant in the Lake Meadows Shopping Plaza in Bronzeville, the doors were locked and a security guard inside patrolled the empty eatery while a line of cars formed at the drive-thru service.
In the same shopping plaza, the chairs and tables in Subway and Dunkin Donuts in the dining area were put away as customers placed take-out orders. Four cars lined the drive thru at the White Castle fast food restaurant in the Southwest portion of the shopping plaza.
Meanwhile, the parking lot at the busy shopping plaza remained nearly empty. LA Fitness, one of the main anchors of the complex closed Tuesday after the chain decided to shut down its gyms nationwide for two weeks because of coronavirus concerns.
Bronzeville’s Yassa African restaurant’s dining area was closed, but the popular eatery was accepting take-out orders.
Ain’t She Sweet Cafe in Bronzeville was empty with its tables and chairs placed on both sides of the dining area. The eatery still attracted patrons, who ordered food from its takeout service.
At the Shawn Mitchell Ice Cream parlor at the historic Rosenwald Apartments in Bronzeville, customers were asked to stand on pieces of green tape that were placed six feet apart on the floor to encourage social distancing.
With 106 cases, it’s unclear on how long restaurants will remain closed under the order. A number of eateries have laid off employees, many of whom live from pay check to paycheck.
There is concern whether Black restaurants will survive if they are forced to remain closed for a long period of time. And questions remain whether there is enough take-out business to help restaurants stay afloat.
During a meeting with Chicago’s ethnic press late Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she asked for federal financial emergency assistance for workers who are now unemployed because of the stoppage.
She said Chicago Public Schools would deliver meals to its students, 70 percent of whom rely on CPS breakfast and lunch daily to get by.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday, March 17 passed a $1 trillion, bi-partisan, economic stimulus package that would give Americans making under $85,000 a year $1,000.