Erich Connor, of Chicago, shows a photo of his COVID-19 vaccination card to Jonathan Agrimonti, of Chicago, on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, at the Beer Shop. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

Folks looking to belly up to the bar are not strangers to showing identification before imbibing, but now in addition to checking IDs for proof of age, staff at Beer Shop, 1026 North Blvd., and Kinslahger Brewing Company, 6806 Roosevelt Rd., are requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. 

“I am not a scientist or a disease expert, but I do watch what is going on,” said Tony Compaglia, current owner of Beer Shop. “And an increasing number of groups are coming to this same decision.”

On July 27 the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, a local industry group, recommended that local bars check for proof of vaccination before allowing guests inside. On Monday, Aug. 15 New York City became the first government in the United State to ban unvaccinated people from indoor restaurants, gyms, and music venues. Fifteen Chicago music venues have instituted “no shot no show” policies and the city of Chicago has its own growing list of restaurants requiring proof of vaccination including Koval Distillery, Giant, Beat Kitchen and Empty Bottle.

A sign that reads “Vax Proof Required” is seen outside the entrance on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, at Beershop in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

“I feel like we are ahead of what will become a trend in Oak Park,” said Compaglia. “I am doing my best to balance all these complexities and things seem to be moving in the direction of checking vaccination status.”

Beer Shop’s policy shift was announced via Instagram on Aug. 6 and gave patrons a week to adjust to the change. Online reaction to the announcement was largely positive, but some commenters were displeased with the policy.

“I am willing to endure some short-term pain in exchange for longer term safety,” said Compaglia. “We have experienced anger from some people who have opinions about mandates that are very different than ours. Social media gives people a platform to express that anger.”

The entrance is seen on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, at Beershop in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Though he has no way of knowing for sure, Compaglia is confident most of the online criticism came from outside the Oak Park community. In addition to dealing with some online ire, Beer Shop also saw an approximately 20% drop in revenue on the weekend following the announcement. 

Undeterred, Beer Shop employees began asking customers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination beginning Aug. 14. Customers can show their vaccination card or a photo of the card on their phone, but any customer entering the building must comply with the vaccine requirement.

“My first priority is the safety of our customers and employees,” said Compaglia. “We made the decision we felt was the right one. Hopefully the community will continue to come to Beer Shop.”

Jack Dengel, longtime manager of Beer Shop, and his wife, Danielle Dengel, will take over ownership of the bottle shop and tap room from Compaglia in the next month. The in-coming co-owners are fully supportive of Compaglia’s decision to require vaccination and plan to continue the policy after the ownership transition is complete.

“Things are spiraling out of control, and it is falling to businesses to lead the way out of this,” said Jack Dengel. “We are being proactive for our customers and setting a good example in the community. All customers have to do is flash their vax card.”

Beer Shop employees are all on the same page as the ownership team. They are not strangers to checking identification and ensuring no-one is over-served in their establishment; checking vaccine cards is another step they are willing to take to ensure safety. The Dengels, however, are clear it is not their employees’ job to debate customers. If someone takes issue with the policy, they will be referred to management just like any other unruly customer.

“We all thought this was over and it is hard to make a decision that could be considered controversial,” said Danielle Dengel. “But it is heartwarming to have the support of our community. It goes such a long way when people tell us they are grateful for our decision to keep people safe.”

Erich Connor, of Chicago, shows his COVID-19 vaccination card on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, at Beershop in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Just days before Beer Shop announced its vaccine requirement, Keith Huizinga, owner of Kinslahger Brewing Company, made a similar decision for customers looking to enjoy a beer in his brewery’s tasting room.

“We were closed for 15 months at the height of the pandemic and since reopening we have been staying on top of the Delta variant, breakthrough infections and the potential for spreading,” said Huizinga. “We contemplated closing again, but that seemed too drastic. The next best thing was limiting the population at Kinslahger to those who have been vaccinated.”

Huizinga is clear that life is not risk free but acknowledges COVID-related health risks are far less serious among the fully vaccinated. The decision to require proof of vaccination strikes a proper balance and feels like the responsible choice to the brewery owner.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Huizinga. “Ninety-seven percent of people are supportive. Of course, there are about three percent of people calling us fascists, but we were never going to change those minds anyway.”

According to Huizinga patrons unable to prove their vaccination status have been asked to leave the tasting room with the assurance they will be welcomed back with proper proof of immunization.

Like Compaglia and the Dengels, Huizinga is convinced more businesses will take this approach to keep their customers and employees safe. Though Huizinga and Compaglia have not spoken, owners of both businesses intend to keep the policy in place long term and are hopeful people who have been hesitant to come out for a beer will feel comfortable visiting their establishments. 

FitzGeralds joins in vaccination proof policy

FitzGerald’s, the iconic nightclub on Roosevelt Road, on Monday joined the escalating number of live music venues, restaurants and bars requiring either proof of COVID-19 vaccination or an up-to-date negative COVID test to gain admission to the club.

In an email to FitzGerald’s followers, owner Will Duncan said he and his staff have agreed on the new policy for patrons, musicians and staff to access the indoor nightclub. For now patrons can use the patio and Sidebar space without proving vaccination or providing a negative test.

“Masks are required for staff and we doggedly beg patrons to wear masks as well. The future of the live music industry depends on kicking COVID’s ass,” Duncan wrote

 Melissa Elsmo

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