Oak Park has plainly become a mecca for restaurants. They line the streets in each and every commercial strip. They help define, especially those that are independently owned, the culture of the village. They generate notable sales tax, liquor tax and property tax revenue.
So getting this engine of commerce running again in this COVID-19 pandemic is important. Like all small businesses, our restaurants are suffering grievous, sometimes insurmountable damage. We report today that LaBella, South Boulevard off Marion Street, will not reopen. There will be more of these permanent losses. So the move to follow Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s new guidance on allowing outdoor seating to re-open, maybe even to be created, is enticing.
The state’s guidance is strict: much diminished seating capacity to ensure social distancing, servers and diners wearing masks except when eating, temperature checks of employees before shifts. All necessary steps. Oak Park officials have basically said the village will follow state guidelines. So we expect to see outdoor dining as early as the end of this week.
Here’s our caution:
There are clearly many lame-brained people at large. We saw them all Memorial Day weekend on TV news in states and cities — Lake Geneva, for one — which have already reopened. No masks, no social distancing, seemingly no brain cells at work as they swamped bars and restaurants.
Down that path is more infection, more delay in anything that looks like sustainable normal.
As Oak Park moves forward with outdoor dining, it must carry a big stick of enforcement. Pressure and expectations will fall on food entrepreneurs to enforce crowd limits. And it will be necessary for the health department and police to actively shut down excess. If we thought it was hard to scoot families off playgrounds a month ago. Setting limits on diners and drinkers will be much harder but more necessary.
We have not, as a village, as a state, sacrificed so much over three months for the public good to allow it to evaporate for nachos and beer on a summer evening.