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'We can't survive a month without help': local businesses react to COVID-19 restaurant closure

Local business owners react to Gov. Pritzker's closing bars, restaurants through March

Sam Cohn, a server at The Junction Eating Place, wipes down the counter Sunday at the eatery on West Lincoln Highway in DeKalb.
Sam Cohn, a server at The Junction Eating Place, wipes down the counter Sunday at the eatery on West Lincoln Highway in DeKalb.

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DeKALB - Longtime owner of Fatty's Pub & Grille Jeff Dobie lamented the local ripple effects of Gov. JB Pritzker's order for all dine-in bars and restaurants to cease operations through March to prevent further spread of coronavirus.

The order will go into effect after the end-of-business Monday night through the end of the month, and DeKalb County businesses are bracing for the impact.

"We can't survive a month without help," Dobie said Sunday after Pritzker's announcement.

He said he's worried about payroll for his 50-person staff.

Ammar Mahmood, owner of Jamrah Middle Eastern Cuisine, which was awarded Business of the Year by the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce in January, said he'll have to lay off half his staff, 10 employees.

"Running a restaurant in January, February and March is a challenge on its own," Mahmood said. "We have been scrambling since we heard the news a while ago. We are trying to answer questions, vendors are worried. You can hear it in their voice."

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker ordered all bars and restaurants in the state to close at the end of business Monday through March 30 in an effort to prevent further spread of coronavirus. His order will also allow establishments to keep serving patrons via drive-thru and curbside pickup. For those without drive-thru, such as Fatty's and Jamrah, curbside pickup and delivery options will become available during normal business hours.

Countywide establishments reacted to the news across social media Sunday, announcing they'll start offering curbside pickup or delivery in an effort to continue business.

"It's stressful," Dobie said. "We're assuming that the state will be helping us out so we can meet payroll so that our employees can somehow still make a living because most restaurants don't have the capacity to make payments."

Jamrah's downtown DeKalb location, 209 E. Lincoln Highway, will close through March 30, and its Sycamore location, 2672 DeKalb Ave., will remain open to cater to curbside pickup and delivery orders during regular business hours. Curbside pickup and delivery for Fatty's will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. For Jamrah, it'll be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday at its Sycamore location, closed Sunday.

Mary Wilson, co-owner of Hillside Restaurant, 121 N. Second St. said she's been keeping up with news of COVID-19 spread in Italy and understands the need to "flatten the curve," but hopes the community can continue to support local business. Hillside, a staple in downtown DeKalb for decades, will also offer curbside pickup.

"We are reeling here," Wilson said. "We hope for the best and that there is a solution to this and hope that as as Americans bond together and get through this difficult time, which is unprecedented."

Wilson and Dobie both said they're still ready for St. Patrick's Day Tuesday, and will offer traditional corned beef and cabbage for pickup.

The Junction Eating Place, which has been in the community for 50 years, was full of regulars Sunday, and owner Tom Tsagalis said he has no choice but to follow the rules, though they'll also offer delivery and curbside pickup.

"This is hard for everybody," he said. "People want to come out still but it's not something we'd like to do if it's not healthy for everybody and the employees."

Economic impact of COVID-19 felt countywide

State and federal regulations, in an attempt to stem community spread of coronavirus, have already shut down public and private schools, some international travel and spring sports for the foreseeable future.

Cortney Strohacker, executive director of the DeKalb County Convention & Visitors Bureau, called the economic impact "devastating." She said she held a conference call with area hotels Friday after they were asked by the Illinois Office of Tourism to report all economic impact losses and loss of revenue due to the coronavirus.

"As of Friday, hotels are already reporting huge losses countywide," Strohacker said. "The cancellation of the IESA state wrestling championships brought losses of roughly $400,000 to area hotels and restaurants."

She said cancellations for the Egyptian Theatre just this week alone affect the theater and hotels with "thousands of dollars" in losses.

She said businesses are attempting to get creative to combat loss of revenue in a time of uncertainty.

"Prairie Street Winery has offered curbside delivery for customers," she said. "Alan Brown Chevy has delivered new vehicles to customers' homes and completed paperwork at their home instead of at the dealership."

Matt Duffy, executive director for the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said the smaller, local businesses will be most effected.

"Supporting local businesses including restaurants and bars is one way people can help the area get through this unique experience without lasting impact."

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