Chicago Businesses on Bracing For the Winter, Hopes for the Coming Months

Since the pandemic hit, we’ve been talking with people from across the Chicago area’s business community about how they’ve been coping with coronavirus. For some, the summer months offered a bit of a reprieve – others still haven’t been able to reopen.

With loan and grant money starting to run dry for some businesses, and the likely difficult winter months fast approaching, we wanted to check back in with some of the people we spoke with earlier this year.

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Nabil Moubayed, general manager of the Kimpton Gray hotel downtown and director of Midwest operations for the Kimpton hotel brand, said hotel occupancy did pick up somewhat in the summer but that it was still down about 80% from normal business. Things are slowing even further during the winter. While the vaccine creates hope on the horizon, Moubayed’s concerned about losing talented employees.

“There was a time when we wanted to bring a few employees back, and talked to a whole bunch of employees who have already gone on to a different industry,” Moubayed said. “They’ve become scared of coming back to the hospitality industry because it just doesn’t have a sustainable future at this time. That is something that I’m worried about as we rebuild our business.”

Spring Capers, who owns Spring’s Place salon in the South Loop, spoke with WTTW News in May just before her business was allowed to reopen. When it did, she saw “a lot of pent-up demand. When I came back I was working six days (a week), 12-hour days. It was a lot,” Capers said. “Unfortunately, I lost a couple of stylists (who) had health concerns so they couldn’t come back.”

In addition to losing staff, Capers is also in an industry with high personal protective equipment costs because of the close contact involved.

“Everybody that comes in has to have on a mask, we have to wear our mask, we have to wear goggles, we have to buy cleaning supplies, we have to buy partitions. That is an ongoing cost that we’ve never had, (in addition to) cutting back how many clients I can do … It’s challenging,” she said.

Capers and other business owners are hopeful that there could be another round of stimulus funding. Joe Shanahan, owner of Metro Chicago, SmartBar, and GMan Tavern, is also one of the founders of CIVL, the Chicago Independent Venue League. He says local politicians have been in dialogue with owners of closed down venues.

“They understand our unsustainable predicament, and that is the bare facts of things: we are the first to close and the last to reopen. What we’re trying to do is create as much … energy behind the venues themselves where if you don’t buy a ticket, maybe it’s time to buy a T-shirt or a poster,” Shanahan said.

In addition, CIVL’s also starting a virtual concert series on Friday and is fundraising to support staff, artists, and venues. With vaccines hopefully on the way soon, Shanahan’s looking forward to welcoming people back into his venues.

“We do have things booked for spring and summer and fall ... it does look like once we have a vaccine there will be movement to people coming back to participate in these activities,” Shanahan said.

On the hotel side, Moubayed says reservations for next year are starting to come in.

“We have seen more confidence in people trying to book around late spring, early summer, and into the second half of next year,” Moubayed said. “Especially with conventions, group business, even business travelers. And, of course, in the summer we’re very, very anxious to have all of our leisure travelers back when we can have concerts and outdoor sporting events and festivals back on the calendar.”

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