Restaurant owners in Illinois may be itching to return to some type of semblance of normalcy, but it’s going to take a while as Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday filed an emergency rule to extend COVID-19 safety rules, including mask wearing and social distancing, for another 150 days — until early June — after a similar pandemic regulation expired earlier this week.
The rule strongly resembles the prior mandates, requiring anyone over the age of two who doesn’t have medical restrictions to wear a mask in public and mandating them to maintain six feet of distance from others — both indoors and outdoors. The new rule would give hospitality and retail workers — many of whom have become de facto mask enforcers — a document to help deescalate confrontations with unmasked customers. Despite the presence of a vaccine, the extension is also a sign that restaurant customers should expect the same environment established last year during the pandemic’s infancy.
The new rule would also limit gatherings to 50 people, with schools limited to fewer than 50 in a single space. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules will decide whether or not to approve the rule at a meeting on January 12. If approved, it would remain effective through June 3, or until Pritzker repeals it.
In August, Illinois upgraded attacks on servers from simple battery to aggravated battery, which comes with a $2,500 fine. Its impact in the city was minimal, as preexisting guidelines were stricter than those implemented by the governor this summer. Still, Illinois Retail Merchants Association CEO Rob Karr told the Center Square that the new rule would improve upon the old one because it equips workers with a document to hand aggressive customers that states the business is simply complying with a statewide mandate.
As with the prior rule, enforcement would be up to local authorities and law enforcement. Businesses that break the rules, ignore written warnings, and defy an order to disperse could face a Class A misdemeanor. That means a $2,500 fine or up to a year in jail. Though businesses can be punished, the rule states that individuals won’t be held responsible for a business’s compliance, even if they’re the owner.
Illinois’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate is at 8.6 percent, while Chicago recently saw an uptick to 10.6 percent.
And in other news...
— In an effort to reduce the number of stores, Macy’s Water Tower has confirmed it will close, leaving its State Street store — and seventh floor food court — in limbo, the Tribune reports. It’s another glaring vacancy in Water Tower Place, which in June saw Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises ventures Foodlife and Mity Nice Bar & Grill close after 27 years. Macy’s also housed Frango, a chocolate brand it sold to Garrett Brands (of popcorn fame), and Seven on State, an upscale food hall. In 2018, Dave & Buster’s considered moving its Downtown Chicago location inside the shopping center, but plans never came to fruition. With the fall of retail, the Macy’s space may be prime for restaurants to move in; stay tuned. As for State Street, a rooftop bar announced in 2018 never materialized.
— Lettuce Entertain You president R.J. Melman and wife Katherine have purchased a five-bedroom Gold Coast mansion for $4.8 million from NBC Chicago anchor Zoraida Sambolin and White Sox Executive Vice President Ken Williams, according to the Trib. Sambolin and husband Williams bought the house in early 2019 from Bill and Giuliana Rancic, who are partners with Melman at glitzy Chicago restaurants RPM Steak, RPM Italian, and RPM Seafood.
— Band of Bohemia, the Michelin-starred brewpub that closed permanently in October as its owners filed for bankruptcy, has officially been evicted from its Ravenswood location at 4710 N. Ravenswood Avenue, according to Block Club Chicago. The restaurant closed in July temporarily, ownership said at the time, following a flurry of allegations that leadership fostered a toxic work environment and mismanaged operations during the pandemic.