Writing this from my back porch, I’d like to pat myself on the back for my gift of hindsight. Last year, when we added the screened-in porch to our home, we lost much of the summer outdoors as our yard was given over to mud and construction workers. 

We are all quite thankful that project took over the yard in 2019 rather than 2020. Now that the porch is completed, it provides an extra office space for work-from-home activities and Zoom summer camp classes and lets us dine al fresco every night, no reservation required. 

At all times of day, the extra space at the rear of the house provides a much-needed escape to enjoy the outdoors while still following social distancing dictates.

Judging from what I see over the fence into my neighbors’ yards, we’re not the only ones taking our socially distanced summer to the backyard. To our south, the toddler neighbors enjoy daily time in an inflatable bouncy house. The three girls next door are planning the arrival of their new play house. 

Across Oak Park and River Forest, parents are coping with the cancellation of summer camps and the closure of the local pools by making their own fun in their backyards.

Liz Cardwell of Oak Park says that when she ordered an inflatable pool on Amazon for her backyard, it was days before the park district announced that Oak Park pools would be closed for the summer. 

“Literally, I was setting up the pool the day they emailed the pools were closing,” Cardwell said.

 She notes that Amazon is selling out of many models now, with parents across the country facing a long hot summer with no outdoor outlets. As her two kids splashed in the pool on a recent 90-plus degree day, she says it was a great decision. 

The pool took no time to set up, and her kids will hopefully be entertained for weeks on end. As neighbors have taken note of the giant blue tub in her back yard, she says she thinks it’s becoming a trend: at least two other families also placed their orders for pools in recent weeks.

Nancy Kohout, mom of four in Oak Park, says she was ready to pull the trigger on backyard entertainment early into the pandemic. 

“I was ready to jump off a cliff and would probably be off the cliff already if it wasn’t for this trampoline and hot tub,” she says of their newly purchased summer gear.

Kohout, who says she contracted the novel coronavirus in March, notes that the severe body aches made her yearn for a hot tub. She ended up buying a portable one online soon thereafter. 

“When I figured out everything was going to be closed, I bought it, probably at the end of March,” Kohout said. “I thought about getting a pool, but selfishly, I thought I’d get a hot tub, and we could use it as both.” 

Her younger children are small enough to swim in the hot tub, and she says her older girls would enjoy soaking in it. Not content with a hot tub for all of their summer activities, she also purchased a trampoline for her kids, something she says she and her husband, Frank, never would have considered in the past. 

“He always thought a trampoline was a liability, but now the neighbors can’t come over and use it,” she said.

Kohout said she purchased her trampoline early during the pandemic, and ordered a second when she realized shipping on her first order might take too long. When both arrived and she was the proud owner of two trampolines, she sold one to a neighbor who was happy to have it. 

Trying to buy a trampoline now might take several months, Kohout says of the popular backyard item. 

Anthony Russo, of Russo’s Pools, Spas and Outdoor Living in Northlake, says Kohout was onto something. He’s been trying to order his kids a trampoline for months, and says orders are backed up. Things aren’t that much different at his business. 

“Any kind of home recreation is absolutely crazy right now,” Russo said. “It’s night and day different from last year. It’s tremendous.”

Not only has demand been great, but he says the supply side is more difficult due to the pandemic. Manufacturers who might have been slowed down are not prepared for the demand, and orders that used to take one week to ten days are now taking five to six weeks.

Russo, who installs pools, spas and other outdoor items such as gazebos and pergolas, says that it can also take longer to get permits from the villages. 

“Proceeding with permits is a whole different experience. It takes a lot longer,” Russo said. “Some village halls are closed, some are operating over email and some have drop boxes.”

He states that for some installations, his business is already backed up into the month of August, but he understands why people continue to place orders. 

“The demand is high because people are stuck at home with nothing to do,” Russo said.

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