Wrigleyville struggles to stay open during pandemic

From the back patio of the Nisei Lounge to the sparkling sidewalks around Murphy’s Bleachers, the fight is on. Ditto for Sluggers, The Cubby Bear and everywhere in between.

The goal is tomorrow. If you get to tomorrow, it’s the next day. All over Wrigleyville – the quirky neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field, the longtime home of the Chicago Cubs – they count pennies, seek help, and dream of a return to normalcy.

“We have no choice but to go through this,” said Zach Strauss, who runs Sluggers with his brothers David and Ari after their father, Steve, opened the bar in 1985.

Businesses across the country know exactly what Zach Strauss is talking about and share the stress he carries with him. But the coronavirus pandemic has been especially tough on businesses that depend on core traffic, knocking out crowds at major league games and leading to rules that limit the number of people they can have inside their homes. doors at the same time.

The Cubs averaged 38,208 fans for their 81 home dates in 2019, behind the Dodgers, Cardinals and Los Angeles Yankees. The White Sox had an average crowd of 20,622, up from 19,862 in 2018.

Now those crowds are gone.

Pedestrian traffic at the Clark & ​​Addison intersection in front of Wrigley Field is almost non-existent before a baseball game on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

“We rely on this foot traffic of 40,000 fans per game and seasonal tourism each year to be successful, and unfortunately we are all currently seeing life as the opposite of that,” said Cristina McAloon, Director of Retail for Wrigleyville Sports.

Just off a freeway south of downtown, the area immediately around Guaranteed Rate Field, the home of the White Sox, doesn’t have as many crowded businesses as Wrigleyville. But they also struggle.

“Survivor. It’s survival mode right now,” said Salvatore Pappalito, owner of Morrie O’Malley’s, a hot dog and hamburger restaurant near the baseball stadium. “You make your adjustments the best you can. can, from food to work to everything, and make sure you can cover the bills. ”

Among Chicago’s stadium businesses, the pandemic has been particularly tough on old-fashioned taverns that only serve alcohol. They were among the last establishments to reopen, watching as bars with food menus got a head start.

Guthrie’s Tavern – a popular Wrigleyville spot known for its board games – closed in July on the same day the town announced it was once again suspending indoor services for bars. With no seating outside, the owners of Guthrie said in a Facebook post that they saw no way to survive.

A lone cyclist walks past Guthrie's Tavern
A lone cyclist on Friday September 4, 2020 walks past Guthrie’s Tavern. Guthrie’s closed in July the same day the city announced it was once again suspending indoor services for bars. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

“When this place fell apart despite everything they had done to stay open, because they had no outside space, we were like, ‘Damn. We have to watch every penny because this place was packed every weekend all year round, ”said Pat Odon, director of beer and baseball operations for Nisei Lounge.

In search of a bridge to a vaccine, some grassroots businesses are leveraging revenue sources or avenues that were previously low on their priority list. They also tap into government assistance when possible; Nisei Lounge, Sluggers, and Wrigleyville Sports were among the small businesses that received loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, and Nisei was also approved for a state grant.

Nisei sold cardboard cutouts, mimicking the promotion at stadiums across the country. Sticking to the spirit of the eccentric place – a staunch defender of Oxford day and comma baseball, and an opponent of the designated hitter – Charles Comiskey, founder of the White Sox Hall of Fame of crosstown, and a kindergarten photo of a customer are among the new patrons saddled at the bar.

“We’re easily down 80% from a regular baseball season,” Odon said. “But oddly enough, we started to make goods. You never own a bar to sell T-shirts, but it helps us get to where we can until there’s a vaccine. And we applied for every grant. We finally found one. We have PPP, so we can do that, if we watch our money and play it tight, until next season.

Sluggers has indoor batting cages, dueling pianos, and games like Skee-Ball. But he’s leaning over his kitchen right now.

“We were forced to turn our whole concept into a restaurant and have people entering our building to be seated with a host or hostess,” said Zach Strauss. “You know, instead of live, get a crazy atmosphere. We are the opposite of social distancing.

“When’s the next time there will be a dancer?” When is the next time people are going to feel comfortable sharing a baseball bat or the basketballs in the basketball machine? So we are, we are suffering quite badly.

customers wear masks at the Sluggers World Class Sports Bar
Sluggers World Class Sports Bar patrons are reminded on Friday, September 4, 2020 to wear a mask along with today’s sports news in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

The pandemic could lead to more changes for a densely populated neighborhood that has been transformed in various ways in recent years, including a new hotel across from Wrigley and an office building for the Cubs.

While the construction underway could help draw more people to the area, Wrigleyville is only really busy when its iconic baseball stadium entertains its usual crowds for games and concerts.

“It hurts Wrigleyville. It hurts all businesses, ”said Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce.

“Really, Wrigleyville depends on this baseball season to get through the winter. So you know, when we look, what’s going to happen in December, January and February?

Sitting on Nisei’s back patio on a bright summer day, Odon stopped to let an elevated train rumble behind him. Then he took a big swing over difficult terrain.

“Wrigleyville will remain Wrigleyville,” he said. “Weird Wrigleyville now, but next year we’ll see if we’re busy. “

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About Perry Perrie

Perry Perrie

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