On Friday, the city of Chicago will completely lift COVID-19 restrictions at restaurants, but developers and restaurants owners worry that it will take more time for downtown business to recover. Foot traffic has perilously dropped since March 2020 in the Loop thanks to vacant office buildings. companies moving into new headquarters, and a plunge in tourism. Wanting to encourage Chicagoans to patronize restaurants and stores, the city will shut down three major downtown arteries and pedestrianize them to allow outdoor dining, concerts, and “Instagramable installations.”
Thursday’s announcement from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office follows up on news from May when the city announced Sundays on State. Starting on July 11, the city will close State Street, from Lake to Madison, to auto traffic right in front of the Chicago Theater. This will open up space for dining, shopping, music, and more. Outdoor dining became the only thing preventing many restaurants from going out of business during the pandemic as the city last year piloted programs in neighborhoods like Lakeview to test if residents wanted to street dine. They did and various programs were renewed in 2021.
Details are still sparse, but BOMA/Chicago (Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago) will sponsor a new program called Lunch on LaSalle. Organizers want to promote restaurants by closing LaSalle, right in front of the Chicago Board of Trade building. On select summer Tuesdays, that stretch of LaSalle will be converted into a “an outdoor dining boulevard.”
Meanwhile, North Michigan Avenue will get similar treatment for the “Meet Me on The Mile” program which will shut down motor vehicle traffic and last from the summer through fall. Details, including what restaurant may participate, dates, and where exactly the closures will take place, aren’t yet available.
Chicago should reveal more about the LaSalle and Michigan Avenue events during a June 16 meeting.
Downtown restaurants have adapted to fewer customers. For instance, Revival Food Hall, a five-minute walk from the Board of Trade, brought in a new vendor lineup with a focus on dinner service. Owners even arranged standing spaces for cars so customers could quickly park and pick up their food. As downtown workers return, that set up won’t be as convenient. The city has previous made a big deal about the alleged safety hazards caused by where food trucks park downtown. Revival vendors have seen a recent rebound in lunch business. The food hall still has empty stalls as many are waiting for more office workers to return to work downtown.