Pritzker closes indoor dining throughout Illinois starting Nov. 4

Pritzker closes indoor dining throughout Illinois starting Nov. 4

All of Illinois will be under tighter restrictions starting Wednesday, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker imposing an indoor dining ban as his answer to the spread of COVID-19.

Restaurants throughout Illinois will be prohibited from letting customers eat inside starting Nov. 4, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker expands an indoor dining ban as his major response to COVID-19 infections.

But restaurant and bar owners are increasingly fighting back, taking to social media or the courtroom to try to save their businesses.

“There were a lot of the factors that came into play, and we decided that instead of fighting it by opening illegally, we would fight it in the courts,” said K.C. Gulbro, co-owner of Foxfire steakhouse in Geneva, Illinois. “We believe in doing what’s right. What’s right is to take a stand and tell the governor he’s wrong.”

Gulbro won a Kane County judge’s order Oct. 26 to stay open while the case is heard. He is challenging Pritzker’s authority to keep issuing 30-day statewide emergency declarations, nine so far related to the pandemic.

Restaurant owners in Park Ridge also filed suit in Cook County. They, too, raised the issue of Pritzker’s emergency powers.

“We are remaining open because staff and ownership need to be able to earn a living and our customers need a place to go to have some normalcy in their lives,” read a statement from Shakou, a restaurant in Park Ridge that is part of the lawsuit.

One bar near Belleville, Illinois, is in federal court asking that state and county officials be halted from enforcing Pritzker’s order. H’s Bar owner Matthew Hamann stated in his suit filed Oct. 30 that without an injunction he would be forced into bankruptcy and have to sell the bar to creditors.

“This is America,” wrote his lawyer, Tom Maag. “It is not North Korea.”

The Illinois Restaurant Association has pointed out that restaurants are among the most highly regulated for sanitation, making them safer than other businesses Pritzker is allowing to operate. They are asking Pritzker to work with them on regulations rather than put at least 120,000 restaurant workers permanently out of a job.

When Pritzker was challenged to show his data on restaurants causing the virus to spread, the Illinois Department of Public Health responded with results from 17,939 positive cases. Of those, 2,300 reported being in a restaurant within the prior 14 days; Pritzker admitted the link was weak.

“Contact tracing data doesn’t tell you where somebody’s caught it. In fact, there’s no way really… to know where somebody’s contracted COVID-19,” he said.

Argie Karafotias, owner of Golden Brunch in Arlington Heights, Illinois, said he’s not sure he can survive another shutdown.

“You need to give the people the choice. If you believe your establishment is safe, give the people the choice to come in. If the people don’t like your establishment or think you don’t follow the rules, they can leave and never come back. Simple as that,” he said. “You have to give the businesses the choice to survive.”

The new restrictions likely mean more Illinois restaurants will close permanently. Estimates range from 5,000 to 21,700restaurants will not survive Pritzker’s COVID-19 restrictions.

“I was just thinking we could ink our way through to April when it’s warm again, but I guess I let myself start to believe too soon,” said Kristan Vaughan, whose family already gave up one and is trying to sell a second of their seven Irish pubs in the Chicago area. “I’m very disturbed the restaurant industry is being singled out. The evidence does not show we are the cause of the spread.”

Region 2, which spans from the Quad Cities area to LaSalle and Kendall counties – and includes Peoria and Bloomington – is the final region in the state to face tighter COVID-19 restrictions. The region had a 9.7% seven-day test positivity rolling average as of Oct. 30, surpassing the 8% state threshold that triggers the heightened restrictions.

The tighter restrictions mean the entire state – all 11 regions – now faces a ban on indoor dining and bar service, as well as gathering limits of 25 people or 25% of room capacity – whichever is less. Restaurants and bars must also halt service by 11 p.m.

Prior to the order taking effect Oct. 30 in her city, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed concern on the economic fallout it would bring. “If the governor’s order goes into effect, it’s really effectively shutting down a significant portion of our economy, at a time when those same businesses are really hanging on by a thread,” Lightfoot told PBS Newshour Oct. 27.

She later backed off a call to keep Chicago’s restaurants open.

Judges in Cook, McHenry and DuPage counties all upheld Pritzker’s latest order in Oct. 30 rulings. Thirty-seven restaurants in McHenry County were requesting a temporary restraining order on Pritzker’s indoor dining ban. Similar requests were made and denied in DuPage and Cook County.

“I’m not sure what to tell these guys, there’s no end in sight,” Tony Antonacci, owner of Taco Melly and Pennyville Station in Park Ridge, told the Chicago Tribune. “I feel restaurants in general have lost trust in our government.”

Restaurants in Springfield – where tightened restrictions went into effect Nov. 1 – are also pushing back against the indoor dining ban. Twenty-two restaurant owners in Sangamon County are now seeking a similar request as in other counties.

The statewide indoor dining ban comes as Illinois’ small businesses face another threat: new taxes. On Nov. 3 voters are being asked to pass Pritzker’s “fair tax,” which would increase taxes by up to 47% on more than 100,000 small businesses.

Do COVID-19-ravaged businesses really need more taxes to contend with?

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