Chicago’s COVID-19 rules hit minority neighborhood restaurants harder

Chicago’s COVID-19 rules hit minority neighborhood restaurants harder

Restaurant owners in Chicago communities with low COVID-19 vaccination rates, mostly on the city’s South and West sides, say pushback against the vaccine proof mandate has hurt sales and cost them customers.

Chicago restaurant owners in minority and low-income neighborhoods with low-vaccination rates are saying Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s citywide COVID-19 proof of vaccine mandate is costing them customers.

“Asking people in my area to show proof of vaccination is almost asking them for a fight,” Carmella Coqmard, owner of The Foodie’s Spot in the Grand Crossing neighborhood told the Chicago Tribune. “People are very, ‘Don’t do that.’ They’re getting very defensive. I’m losing customers.”

Coqmard said she has laid off three employees since Lightfoot’s mandate began Jan. 3. A downturn in traffic lead to her lowest weekend sales in three years. She suspects the community’s low vaccination rate – less than 46% – is partly to blame.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate requires all Chicagoan ages 5 and older to prove they have been vaccinated before entering restaurants, bars and gyms. Besides a vaccination record, patrons must show a picture ID.

On average, 65% of Chicagoans are fully vaccinated and 73% have received at least one dose, according to city data. But those rates tend to be lower in communities on the city’s South and West sides, where advocates say vaccine hesitancy and difficulty lining up shots has been more common.

A study from the University of Chicago released in September affirmed the claim, finding unequal access to vaccines for South and West side communities contributed to lower vaccination rates and preventable deaths.

The Chicago Tribune suggested the restaurant downturn generally follows vaccination rates. Restaurant owners in areas with higher vaccination rates said customers were typically adjusting to the policy change more easily than those in communities with lower rates.

Mike Zar, the fourth-generation owner of Daley’s Restaurant in Woodlawn – where 51% of Chicagoans are vaccinated – said he saw business decrease by 80% during the first few days of the vaccine mandate.

Zar told the Chicago Tribune he believed the city was doing the right thing. “It just comes at an expense for everyone.”

But not all Chicago restaurants are paying as high a price as Daley’s.

Interviews conducted with restaurant owners on the city’s North side, where vaccination rates are generally higher, said they have seen relatively little push back against the vaccine mandate.

Dan Weiss, the owner of Dollop Diner in Ravenswood and 15 coffee shops mostly located downtown and on the North side, said he has yet to hear a complaint from staff about customer responses to the entry requirement.

“A number of things are making business difficult, but a vaccine mandate is not the No. 1 thing,” Weiss told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m more worried about it being zero degrees.”

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