‘It doesn’t make sense’: Outdoor seating not enough for some business owners to justify opening

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MONTICELLO, Ill. (WCIA) — Bars and restaurants in the state have the green light to set up outdoor seating next week, but they still can’t let any customers inside.

For some businesses, the outdoor option won’t give them enough space to justify opening. Some have said they won’t be taking part. The rules on how to safely do it are still being decided.

“In the coming days, my administration will be releasing specific industry reopening safety guidelines,” said Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.

“I think my industry in general has been horribly slighted,” said Fieldhouse 219 owner Michelle Murphy. For some like Murphy – it doesn’t matter what the outdoor seating requirements are. She’s aren’t interested.

“I can’t bring my employees back and expect them to work the same way they did, for a fraction of the money,” explained Murphy. She said she needs a lot more than three tables to restart business, and three is all that will fit in the area she has available. “The building already is very small. The patio is very small, so until I can use every square foot of it, it doesn’t make sense.”

Murphy stopped offering curbside food pickup in early April. She says the question continues to be, ‘Is this worthwhile?’ And the answer is continually ‘No’.

“Especially on food – the margins on food have always been small, so it got to a point where my people weren’t making enough money.”

Monticello city leaders are trying to give businesses incentive to open. They’re offering parklets to bars and restaurants, which are basically patios that will go on top of parking spaces.

“We have 11 restaurants and bars just in our downtown that have no outdoor capacity as it relates to private property, so we’re giving them that option so they can expand their capacity to serve and hopefully get more people in their doors,” said Monticello Chamber of Commerce Community Development Coordinator Callie McFarland.

“We’re gonna work on some signage and how we communicate that with the public to make sure that the public understands that it is safe to come out and utilize these spaces,” explained Shelly Crawford-Stock.

While Murphy agrees it’s a great idea for some, she says, it just won’t work for everyone.

“We don’t have parking spots anymore, so unless they close the street and we can use that area, there’s not really a place that we can expand onto,” she explained.

Murphy says she considered the option of asking to shut down the street in front of her business. That would provide more space for outdoor seating, but she says she doesn’t want to open at all until she can serve at full capacity.

The Monticello Chamber of Commerce is helping business owners who want parklets. Those parklets will take up three parking spaces and offer room for six tables at a safe distance. Business owners have to fill out an application to have a parklet made. Further information is available on that application.

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