Andersonville and Rogers Park

By Billy Gubrud. Created on May 5, 2020. Updated May 14, 2020. From Nightlife.

There have been a lot of people asking how the gay and lesbian bar and restaurant owners and their staff have been doing during the pandemic. In this first installment of my story, I have reached out to the incredible owners in Andersonville and Rogers Park. (Boystown next week).

Ashley Wright, Co-Owner, Hamburger Mary’s, Mary’s Attic, Andersonville Brewing Company

How badly has the pandemic affected your business and you personally?

To say this has had a negative impact is the understatement of the century. Our sales are less than 5% of what they were before the pandemic. We’re doing what we can, but our business model isn’t designed for carry-out and delivery

Were you able to apply or receive money from the CARES Act for small business?

We did receive a PPP loan. But I don’t know if it will end up doing much good. It’s designed to bring employees back to work. But with the mandatory closure of restaurants, there just isn’t enough work for all our employees. Even if I had jobs available for people, most of our employees are currently making more on unemployment than they would coming back to work. So it will be interesting to see what happens with that, once we are allowed to reopen. We will probably have to just give all the money back.

How do you think the shutdown will ultimately impact Andersonville/Edgewater/Rogers Park?

I think there will be a lot of small shops and restaurants that won't survive this, especially if they don’t have any savings or resources to cover the bills when this is all over. Unless there is some forgiveness of rent, utilities, etc.

Once bars are allowed to open, do think the Mayor will restrict amount of patrons allowed in your establishment for social distancing reasons?

I would bet money on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they limit capacity by 50-75% in restaurants, and maybe even not allow bars to reopen for a while. As much as I’d love to have packed houses for all our drag shows and brunches, I don’t think it’s realistic or even a responsible thing to hope for. It’s going to take time for this virus to work its course, and people will be naturally skeptical about large gatherings for a while.

If yes, how badly will that impact your bar?

Unless we can get some relief on our rent and utilities, I don’t see opening with limited capacity as financially viable in the long-term. Like many places in Andersonville, our rent is ridiculously high. It’s hard enough to pay even when we are packed for all our shows.

Also, how will you be able to enforce social distancing?

I suppose we can spread tables apart, and maybe only seat every other table. It will be interesting to see. I’ll be looking for some guidelines from the city on how best to implement any social distancing. Otherwise I guess we’ll have to figure it out

Do you have a way people can contribute to the bar and or your staff?

The best thing I can tell people is to call us up and order some food and drinks for carry-out. We are doing our “Drag Queen Drive Thru” where you can pick up your food from one of our drag queens. It’s fun and interactive (in a socially-distant way). And be sure to tip when you pick up, which will help out our staff and queens. Delivery services take a huge percentage, leaving very little profit. So if people can order directly from a restaurant that ensures the money stays local.

Renee Labrana, Owner R Public House

How badly has the pandemic affected your business and you personally?

It is really bad. We are doing carryout but we are down almost 90%. As far as how it has affected me personally is hard to say. I’ve been trying to juggle how to make this work somehow and calm the fears of my staff, while filling out every loan and grant application I can find.

Were you able to apply or receive money from the CARES Act for small business?

I have applied and keep getting emails saying I am in the cue but have not received anything yet.
How do you think the shutdown will ultimately impact Andersonville/Edgewater/Rogers Park?

I think we will see a lot of restaurants not reopen. I am still on the fence if we will be able to reopen if I am penalized for my sales tax.

Once bars are allowed to open, do think the Mayor will restrict amount of patrons allowed in your establishment for social distancing reasons?

I definitely think they will limit our occupancy by half I am guessing

If yes, how badly will that impact your bar?

Drastically, especially in the fact that we need to bring back most of our staff, so that we don’t have to pay back the PPP loan but if we aren’t open for another month or are only open to half the amount of customers, I am not quite sure how that will go
.
Also, how will you be able to enforce social distancing?

We have discussed taking out half of the chairs and tables. Which of course adds additional costs since we don’t have a basement and will have to pay to store them somewhere
Do you have a way people can contribute to the bar and or your staff?

We do have a Gofund me page, we also are selling gift cards and of course we are doing carryout and all tips I collect are going to the staff. https://www.gofundme.com/f/our-friends-at-r-public-house?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link-tip&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet
Feel free to speak openly and freely about your thoughts or subjects I did not bring up.

This time is very difficult, and I know they are trying to help small business but I feel they missed the boat on certain things. Like doling out the PPP, with its restrictions, before we even really know when we can reopen and how that will look. My other major issue is sales tax. They gave anyone who pays less than $75,000 in a calendar year in sales tax gets a reprieve. Well, $75,000 is a great number if you own a restaurant in the suburbs or downstate. If you own a restaurant in the city proper and you were to pay that amount a year, you wouldn’t be able to stay open. I pay almost twice that and I sell burgers and pizza. My rent for the year is over $60,000 and I am not in the most wanted socioeconomic area. You add to the rent the costs for payroll, food, liquor, utilities and insurance and there would be no way to succeed in a city that charges 10.5% sales tax. I am not sure how they came up with this number. I will pay my taxes (but I can not use the PPP for this) but I need more time. I have already been fined for no t paying March and stating may 1st, I will be charged 10-20% interest daily. If they do not do anything about that I do not know if I will be able to reopen. This really makes me wonder if all the hard work is worth it and after owning a bar and restaurant for over 12 years and gone through bumps in the road, the reality that it may never reopen is heartbreaking.

Mike Sullivan, Co-owner SOFO Tap, Meeting House Tavern, Jackhammer

How badly has the pandemic affected your business and you personally?

Business-wise we’re obviously closed so our revenue has gone to $0. The businesses do not have funds to pay past due liquor bills, rent, or ongoing utilities. Any money the businesses had was used to give 4 weeks of pay to our staff after the State shut us down. Based on archaic laws that were written by the monopoly liquor distributors to benefit themselves (such as the billionaire Wirtz family), the State and the liquor companies refuse to allow us to return liquor for a credit against the past due invoices and the vendors cannot extend our terms past 30 days, even in a global pandemic when many, many businesses are being reasonable and human. Not so with Breakthru Beverage and their billionaire owners. Moreover, under the law, the distributors are required to report us to the state and we are automatically placed on a delinquency list. While we can and have filed a dispute of that, so will be temporarily removed from that list, it’s not clear whether we will remain off the list until we are able to reopen. The State has refused to agree to that. If not, we will not be able to buy liquor from any one, not just the vendors we owe money to. So, it’s not clear how you open.

Were you able to apply or receive money from the CARES Act for small business?

Yes, but it’s not enough to pay our staff until we are likely to be able to reopen in a meaningful way. It also provides very little extra money to cover rent, utilities, etc. But it’s a start.

How do you think the shutdown will ultimately impact Andersonville/Edgewater/Rogers Park?

Many bars and restaurants will either not ever reopen or fail within a year. The same will be true for other retail stores. Our neighborhoods will see huge vacancies. Hopefully our elected officials will do something to assist small businesses, the heart of our City’s amazing and diverse neighborhoods.

Once bars are allowed to open, do think the Mayor will restrict amount of patrons allowed in your establishment for social distancing reasons?

I expect some limitations but many are not workable in a bar setting. For instance, bar patrons cannot drink in a bar if required to have a mask covering their mouths. Likewise, it’s not feasible to remain 6 feet away from everyone in a bar. And if there are significant capacity restrictions that is going to make it harder for bars to survive. Obviously, we need to address the spread of COVID-19, but we also need to consider the impact on small businesses and the millions of people employed by them. If the government is going to require social distancing or other measures that disproportionately impact bars and restaurants, then the government needs to have additional support targeted to those business and their employees.

If yes, how badly will that impact your bar?

See above. If they are too burdensome it will not be feasible to reopen.

Also, how will you be able to enforce social distancing?

See above. Maintaining 6 feet of distance from other patrons in a bar just is not workable.

Do you have a way people can contribute to the bar and or your staff?

Yes, we have a gofundme that supports our staff that relied on tips as a substantial part of their income. https://www.gofundme.com/f/2bears-tavern-group-staff-assitance-fund?fbclid=IwAR0WnzZ2SRlYjW2_6IIqG9GCixCaJVP9GZEQjQEBDhX-AOHdZVYb9dbt9HY We are donating 10% of the gofundme contributions to Care for Real to support their incredible work feeding the hungry on the north side of Chicago.

In addition, every Tuesday and Friday, a team of volunteers is preparing free hot to-go meals and snack bags for people in the hospitality industry in need. It started as a to-go version of “Family Meal” for the 2Bears Tavern Group but we quickly expanded it by reaching out to other gay bars, as there’s clearly a need. And as members of the gay community, we are all “Family.” Of course, while we are targeting those in the hospitality industry, anyone is welcome to stop by and grab a meal. It’s from 2-6 on Tuesdays and Fridays at Meeting House Tavern, 5025 N. Clark Street.

Feel free to speak openly and freely about your thoughts or subjects I did not bring up.
Just a thank you for spreading the word about our family meal.