‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Geneva

Friday will mark two weeks since DuPage and Kane counties have been under coronavirus mitigations at the order of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The entire state must now follow rollback restrictions, like a ban on indoor dining and drinking. But many cities and towns are taking a huge financial hit because of the mitigations – and some businesses are bucking the rules.

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West suburban Geneva is the Kane County seat, with a charming downtown of cafes and specialty boutiques. Most years, Geneva hosts a handful of special events: Swedish Days, a craft show, wine walk and Christmas festival. This year, they were all canceled because of the coronavirus.

The owner of Dangles, a women’s accessory store, says he's missing the traffic those events bring in.

“It's been a very difficult year, and as you can see, a beautiful day like this, very few people walking around,” said Angelo Dangles. “We need shoppers in these small towns. You buy online, it’s not like shopping in person.”

This even as restaurants nearby are defying the governor’s executive order, after a Kane County judge last month ruled in favor of a steakhouse that sued, alleging the restrictions would cause the business irreparable harm.

It’s frustrating for the co-owner of Niche, a fine dining restaurant recognized for its bourbon collection. Niche is strictly following the ban on indoor dining, even after spending thousands of dollars on air filters. Vince Balistreri says while establishments bucking the rules are thriving, his is left hurting even more.

“We need things even. If people are breaking the law or what is mandated, I don’t blame them. I don’t want to start a war with any of my neighbors,” Balistreri said. “I have no hard feelings for them doing what they have to do, but we have to have an even playing field. If we're doing the right thing, I don't understand why we are getting severely punished for it.”

He says they’re trying to adjust by switching up the menu to more carry-out friendly food. And look for a bourbon Advent calendar to debut soon. But he says the government needs to come through with aid.

Video: Our full interview with Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns.

Nearby, Sergio’s Cantina put up a tent and is focusing on curbside pick-up of their tacos and chile rellenos. The owners say people’s lives come before profit.

“It’s been pretty tough. We’re doing our best, we try to keep being positive. Our employees have been working for us for a long time. (We) try to help them, they help us a lot,” said Sergio De Los Santos.

Still, they feel restaurants have been singled out. And while Pritzker often says the state’s helping with Business Interruption Grants, they’re still waiting after applying six weeks ago.

“The things is our bills continue, obviously, like everybody else. So for him to say, ‘Hey, rely on this,’ that’s really not good enough,” said Lindsey De Los Santos. “We obviously want to protect our community, but we also need a quick source of relief.”

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns says while his community is resilient, COVID-19 mitigations have been a difficult pill for many restaurants and bars to swallow.

“The divide is real. The divide is palpable,” Burns said. “A municipality in the state of Illinois really only has three opportunities to comply with the order as well: we will respond to complaints, we will remind those (allegedly) violating … and then we’ll relay that information to the health department.”

Video: Our full interview with Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis.  

The Kane County Health Department’s Michael Isaacson says the department focuses on education, but it will take action if businesses are blatantly breaking the rules.

“We work together with local law enforcement and with our local sheriff’s department to go out and make visits, really to let people know that we are taking this very seriously, and then we work closely with the state’s attorney’s office. Depending on the type of business it is, that may determine what the best course of action for us to take after that,” Isaacson said.

Isaacson also says Kane County has a robust contact tracing program, with an estimated 1,000 calls going in and out every day.

As for the pandemic’s impact on the economy of Geneva, Mayor Burns says the city’s budget it strong. He believes the city can weather the pandemic, even though it’s divided some residents and businesses.

“If we expect unanimity with respect to policies, locally or by the state, we’re probably fooling ourselves,” Burns said. “As long as when we move forward and move ahead we can learn from this experience. Do I wish there was 100% compliance? Of course. Am I there to judge someone who has chosen otherwise? No.”

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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