Illinois businesses buckle down amid growing coronavirus concerns

(The Center Square) — As fears over the spread of the coronavirus grow, Illinois’ retail and service sectors are preparing for already thin profit margins get thinner.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday the cancellation of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parades, turning away what Gov. J.B. Pritzker said brought more than a million people to the city.

“We don’t take it lightly,” Lightfoot said. “Nonetheless, we concluded that holding a parade at this time posed an unnecessary risk to the public’s health.”

Both she and Pritzker said they’re in contact with the major sports teams in Chicago and elsewhere as to the next steps they’ll take.

Illinois lawmakers, concerned with inviting lawmakers and staffers from around the state to convene under the Capitol dome, canceled scheduled session in Springfield next week.

Wednesday’s announcements are just the latest in a string of cancellations in Chicago and elsewhere that advocates on behalf of the business community said could have significant repercussions.

“Hotels are at the tip of the spear right now,” said Robb Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “They’re feeling the real impact from all of the meeting cancellations.”

Michael Jacobsen, president of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, said the losses from cancelled meetings and overnight stays in Chicago were significant.

“In the city of Chicago alone, we’ve now surpassed $20 million in lost revenue just for the month of March,” he said, adding that those 115,000 overnight stays represent millions more in lost revenue for the local service industry.

“When a visitor comes to the state of Illinois or the city of Chicago, they don’t hole themselves up in a hotel room,” he said. “We’ve heard estimates that amount to more than $100 million in lost revenue when you add all of that spending together.”

Karr said businesses are dealing with supply chain issues due to slowdowns from Chinese shipping delays, but the situation is improving. Mark Grant, president of the National Federation of Independent Business’ Illinois chapter, said the state’s small businesses were concerned.

“They’re all hanging on by their fingernails waiting to see what the shoe that looks like [will] drop next week,” he said. “If you’re in a business that’s travel-related, service-related, or in hospitality, I think you’re going to feel this pinch harder, faster.”

Businesses such as grocery stores, Karr said, also have to consider what they’ll do if local governments begin to enact crowd restrictions.

“What if public transportation gets shut down? How do they get to work? How do we protect employees that are interacting with the public,” he asked.

Both Karr and Grant said their member businesses were already under pressure from high business taxes, property taxes and uncertainty over future rate hikes to pay down state and municipal debt.

Public coffers, facing a drop in tourism dollars, could take a hit as well. Entities like McCormick Place in Chicago are funded by taxes such as surcharges on taxi rides to the event center and additional food and beverage taxes in the city.

One of the new cases announced Wednesday was the third person outside of Cook County that had been diagnosed, a man from Lake County. Illinois now has a total of 25 cases of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that originated in China.

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