Illinois restaurants, bars concerned about future after Pritzker orders closures over coronavirus

Beginning at the close of business Monday, all restaurants and bars in Illinois will be closed to dine-in customers through March 30 on orders of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said it’s an effort to help cut down on the spread of COVID-19.

“I am ordering all bars and restaurants in the state of Illinois to close to the public at the close of business Monday night March 16th through March 30th,” Pritzker said in Chicago. “We are working with restaurant owners and food delivery services across the state to see if restaurants can safely keep their kitchens open so the restaurants can continue food delivery at their homes. Additionally, we are allowing drive through and curbside pickups over this period.”

Karen Conn, a restaurateur and small business owner in Springfield, said she understands the decision. But she also said her initial reaction is plain shock.

“We’re scratching our head right now saying how can we keep as many of the employees that we have that were part of our family, how do we keep them on our payroll, when there’s no dollars coming in,” Conn said.

As to the possibility of small business loans for affected businesses, Conn said that may not help.

“Is that gonna help? I’m afraid that mom and pops aren’t going to be able to weather the storm and we’re going to see a rash of businesses close,” Conn said.

The expected decline in people eating out at Illinois restaurants because of the governor’s move won’t just impact employers and their employees, it will also likely increase demand at grocery stores.

“I want people to know that Illinois’ food supply chain is among the nation’s strongest and steadiest and I’m committed to keeping it that way as this situation evolves,” Pritzker said Sunday.

He said he’s working with grocers, and federal and local governments to ensure food supplies to stores continue at all hours.

“Please do not hoard food,” Pritzker said. “Buy what you need, but please be reasonable. There is enough food to go around, but please do not be selfish.”

Brian Jordan, president of the Illinois Food Retailers Association, agreed but acknowledged “the supply chain is being strained.”

“Please shop your normal shopping patterns,” Jordan said. “Consumers are hoarding and that’s putting a tremendous strain on grocery stores, and grocery store employees.”

He said there’s an effort to increase the amount of weight a truck can carry so more goods can be delivered on a more regular basis.

State Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, who used to own a restaurant in Springfield, said he’s never seen anything like this in his lifetime.

“Obviously we won’t really know if this is the right decision for months,” Murphy said. “Hopefully it will be over in a short period of time and then we’ll analyze exactly what took place and that’s when the second-guessing will happen.”

Murphy said he’s happy the governor said he’s working with the restaurant industry to allow curbside and window pickup.

The closures of bars and restaurants to the public tentatively will last through March 30.

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