An old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
However, as the public-health crisis continues, that saying is becoming more like, “Necessity is the mother of innovation.”
With services limited due to the COVID-19 crisis, business owners in the Mt. Greenwood commercial district have become innovators during the last four months.
When indoor dining was prohibited, restaurants opened temporary patios or started up delivery services. To make sure all businesses survived, dozens of owners united to host fun and engaging promotions.
In a nutshell, Mt. Greenwood businesses have done whatever’s needed to stay in business.
“They have been amazing during this hard time,” said Mt. Greenwood Community and Business Association (MGCBA) Executive Director Mary Gill. “It has been so tough on them. Each one has come up with such creative ways to keep going.
“Whether they took advantage of grants or loans, started online stores, started delivery services or participated in local campaigns, the businesses have done an amazing job modifying their businesses to work for the neighborhood. I hope everyone knows how much work the businesses have put in over the last few months and hope the neighborhood supports them now more than ever.”
After on-site dining was prohibited for several months, restaurants in Chicago have been allowed to offer outdoor dining since June 3, when the city entered Phase 3 of its re-opening plan.
Local restaurants went to work utilizing the space around their locations—including parking lots—to serve customers.
At Bacon and Jam, 3335 W. 111th St., owner Sam Maglaris said he had always envisioned opening an outdoor patio, and his brother and co-owner, Joe Maglaris, obtained the proper permit for one, installing barriers and canopies along with tables.
The space remains open—weather permitting—even though indoor dining has been allowed since June 26.
“It’s been good,” Maglaris said. “Of course, the elements have an effect on whether people even want to sit outside. … It’s been a nice area since we opened it.”
Barraco’s restaurant, 3047 W. 111th St., has also utilized its outdoor patio space, which debuted when the restaurant opened in 2014.
The restaurant’s Beverly location, 2105 W. 95th St., expanded its outdoor dining area.
Manager Daniela Barraco said the restaurant is taking “everything one day at a time” as the crisis continues.
“We’re thankful for the community that we’re in,” Barraco said. “We’ve been supported throughout all of this. We can’t wait to get back to normal.”
When COVID-19 shut down or severely scaled back many businesses in mid-March, 30 local shops, including Bacon and Jam and Barraco’s, created a Small Business Mega Lottery. Led by S&T Provisions, 3804 W. 111th St., the lottery offered two lucky winners $4,500 worth of gift cards to 15 businesses.
Each business contributed a $300 gift card, and revenue was raised through the sale of raffle tickets for $10 each. The gift cards are not valid until the start of 2021, giving businesses time to raise revenue to go toward its contribution of the gift card.
Participating businesses shared the revenue, and Bacon and Jam put its share to good use.
“That went great,” Maglaris said. “That whole experience was great. We were able to pay our rent with what we were able to raise during that promotion with S&T.”
S&T Provisions, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, has hosted similar promotions in recent years, including in July.
Gill said she is planning to meet with 95th Street Beverly Hills Business Association Executive Director Erin Ross and Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association Executive Director Caroline Connors to explore ideas for more promotions that can be held in coming months while allowing participants to practice social distancing.
She is also meeting with S&T’s Brian Giaretta to explore a fall promotion.
When Chicago enters a new phase of the re-opening plan, officials release specific details on what is and isn’t allowed. Restaurants can only offer indoor seating at 25-percent capacity, and bars that didn’t sell food were not allowed to offer outdoor drinking until June 17.
Illinois will enter Phase 5—a full re-opening—only when a vaccine is developed to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, a treatment option is readily available that ensures health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he will not hesitate to move the state back a phase if COVID-19 cases rise.
It isn’t easy for business owners to track each and every rule, and Gill tries to help as much as she can.
“We are doing as much research as possible to help assist businesses with all the rules and regulations,” Gill said. “When the mayor announces anything new, we receive an email that we share with the businesses.”
Many bars and restaurants improved their carryout and delivery service when they couldn’t let customers inside. At Bacon and Jam, Maglaris offered pre-order family-style brunches for Easter and Mother’s Day, which he said was a success.
Even with indoor dining allowed, restaurants continue to tout carryout services.
Maglaris said he still has “large amounts of takeout happening”—whereas roughly 90 percent of his orders used to be for dining in, now, it’s about half and half.
He said he and his brother continue to explore different strategies and systems to keep their restaurant thriving.
One thing’s for sure: customers have done their part to make life as easy as possible for the men during unprecedented times.
“The community’s really rallied behind us,” Maglaris said, “and kept us still here and going.”