Last week there was a major local controversy about George’s Restaurant defying the governor’s order to close indoor dining due to a surge in coronavirus cases. This weekend there’s a brouhaha in a Facebook group about another restaurant owner proposing opening his businesses for private parties of up to 25 people. A few weeks ago it was the village’s decision to go ahead with the Lake Street construction project, forcing an early close to outdoor dining on that restaurant row.
These are extraordinarily tough times for dining and entertainment businesses. With weather ending outdoor dining and scientists concluding the virus becomes aerosolized indoors (think spreading like smoke), it is going to get tougher this winter for these businesses. Many will close for good in 2021.
Have you seen the local governments’ efforts to keep these vital entities on life support? Has your email inbox been pounded by messages reminding you to grab carry-out from a local spot? Have you been seeing the Instagram ads encouraging you to buy a gift card to help these local treasures survive? Did you receive the pamphlet on your door with a carry-out guide to all Oak Park restaurants?
Yeah, me neither.
The village had a task force on helping these businesses out and it reportedly devolved into yelling at the village manager. They did little to nothing. The Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, the entity charged with bringing business to Oak Park? They did little to nothing — they must be too busy trying to get apartment buildings built for residents … who will have to go to other cities to spend their dining money.
I certainly don’t have sure-fire solutions (though ideas can be found above, and kudos to Wednesday Journal’s pay-for-play efforts). My family tries to order out from favorite places regularly to support them, but reminders could get us and more neighbors to do more. I know there are issues about picking winners and losers, or where to get the money, considering the current budget crunch. I also know that doing nothing is unconscionable.
Local restaurants are so important because in addition to generating tax revenue, they contribute to the cultural fabric of the community. They bring life to our business districts; they help define the personality and appeal of our village.
It would be a shame if we lost them with a lack of interest, cooperation and leadership from our usually very interventionist government.