'I missed the people. I missed the employees. I missed the food.' Suburbs reopen to Phase 3
Friends met for lunch on outdoor patios. Salons reopened with full appointment books. Customers waited in line to browse their favorite stores.
Suburban residents emerged from their homes today as the state moved into a less restrictive Phase 3 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan. And though masks were required and social distancing protocols were in effect, many were eager to feel a sense of normalcy for the first time since mid-March.
"I'm thrilled," Arlington Heights resident Donna Dong said as she dined with her daughter, Tianna, at Peggy Kinnane's. "We've been cooking every day. We haven't dined out at all. (Tianna) is a nurse, so she deserves this."
Restaurants across the suburbs have been working with communities to create or expand their al fresco dining areas. They were among the businesses that opened their doors with occupancy limits, hand sanitizer stations and various other restrictions as part of the much-anticipated loosening of the stay-at-home order.
About two hours before reopening Main Street Social in downtown Libertyville, owner Duke Ross wasn't sweating it.
The employees had started filing in. The patio tables were set up, with more seating available beneath a large tent in the parking lot.
With the proper distance requirements, there's enough space for about 100 to 110 people, he said.
"I can't take any more reservations," Ross said. "We're at about 200."
In Schaumburg, diners began arriving late Friday afternoon for seatings at Chicago Prime Italian, which has a stylish permanent patio and tables extended under an open-sided tent in the parking lot.
Andy-John Kalkounos, whose family owns the restaurant and other upscale establishments, said he's selling half-price bottles of wine as an enticement to reduce trips by servers and cut down on the number of glasses needed for drinks.
The eatery can accommodate up to 400 customers per night if the demand is there, he added.
"We're pumped up," Kalkounos said. "I couldn't sleep (Thursday) night. It was like the day before Christmas, honest to God."
There was little concern for social distancing at Docks Bar & Grill in Wauconda, where dozens of families, bikers and individuals gathered -- many without masks.
Enjoying a meal on the outdoor patio was "freedom" for Joe Fye and his wife, Jeanette, and 21-year-old daughter, Sammie. The Hawthorn Woods residents called several places to track down an establishment that would be open Friday.
Looking out over Bangs Lake, Donald Card of Wauconda chatted with a friend over a drink.
"Normalcy is nice," he said. "It's a great day -- business as usual with people living their lives."
On Third Street in downtown Geneva, people milled about after shopping and eating. Some wore masks. Most kept a decent distance from others. Outdoor tables and chairs were spread far apart.
Jeff and Eileen Walsma of Geneva, both wearing masks, went to the All Chocolate Kitchen for gelato.
"It's nice to see people out and about again," said Eileen Walsma, who tried to order takeout at least twice a week to support local businesses.
"We're just waiting to see what happens," Jeff Walsma said. "If it takes us a year (to get back to normal), so be it."
Megan Boskey, a Geneva resident who will be a junior at St. Francis High School in the fall, drew a small crowd of moms and strollers along Third Street as she made blowup balloon swords, swans, dogs and other items for children.
"You want to get in line?" one mom asked her child. "Just keep your distance."
Back in fifth grade, Boskey did animal balloons for a talent show, she said. She saw her supplies in her basement and broke them out Friday to spread some joy.
"I want to see kids smile," she said.
Down the street, Tom Konopacki, owner of Anastazia Treasures, was happy to be open for the first time since March, though the store operated an online site during the lockdown.
"It did OK. I think a lot of stores like this, you have to touch it and feel it and get inspired," he said. "We're happy to be back. We're following all the safety procedures and doing what we can."
While many businesses created small outdoor seating areas, Fiora's, which has a large outdoor patio, was still closed Friday. Mike Anastasio, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Ann, said they are shooting for a June 5 reopening.
"We're excited about it but we want to make sure we do it right. We're putting everything in place to make sure we can do it safely," he said. "I'm very energized. It's great to see people out again. People seem to be in good spirits."
On the sidewalk along River Street in downtown East Dundee, Rachel Borah and Julia Conway catch up over salads from The Uncommon Palate.
The best friends typically meet up at least once a week, they said, but this was their first lunch together since social distancing regulations took effect more than two months ago.
"We've been waiting for this," said Borah, a Gilberts resident. "It's been a long while."
The Dundee area was bustling with pedestrians and cyclists and even some groups that were not practicing social distancing.
Barb Christie, a hairstylist at an East Dundee salon, said people have been walking in off the streets asking for a haircut.
"I can only say, 'I can do it in July,'" she says as she finishes cutting her sister's hair. "I'm booked until then."
Salons are taking the temperatures of clients before they're allowed to enter.
Security personnel are stationed at each entrance of Woodfield Mall checking for mask compliance.
And though many pedestrians walking through downtown areas are not wearing face coverings, they typically keep their distance and mask up before entering any stores.
"It's so encouraging," said Jennifer Johnson, who is taking over as executive director of MainStreet Libertyville, a volunteer revitalization group. "There are people in the streets, walking into stores. We're elated."
Steve Strumberger was enjoying a day off in the sun on a bench in Libertyville's Cook Park, across the street from his formal wear and tailor shop on Cook Avenue and Route 21. He expects to reopen for business Monday.
"Three months, I didn't make a penny," he says. "I lost the prom, and I lost a lot of weddings."
Many retail stores remain closed in downtown Naperville, though the iconic Anderson's Bookshop has reopened. A cosmetics retailer, Lush, is demonstrating and selling products from a table outside their store.
In downtown Arlington Heights, customer Karen Bogdan was eager to browse A La Mode Collections.
"I love it," she said. "I've been window shopping, but I really like coming in."
Waitress Zuzanna Grabowska wiped down an outdoor table Friday afternoon at Armand's Pizzeria, one of the downtown Arlington Heights restaurants given the green light to reopen with alfresco dining.
"I never thought I'd be so excited to go back to work," she said. "I think I shed tears of joy this morning."
That sense of excitement emanated through restaurants across the suburbs as the lunch hour came to a close.
"It's great to see our clients' faces even though they might have a mask on them," said Derek Hanley, owner of Peggy Kinnane's Irish Restaurant & Pub in Arlington Heights. "We've had a lot of people driving by blowing their horns, cheering out the window. Really, it's like opening a restaurant for the first time."
Hanley knows there will be challenges and uncertainties ahead, but he expects to maintain a steady crowd throughout the weekend. Next week's expected debut of Arlington Alfresco will offer expanded seating in an area where streets will be shut down.
"Peggy's has always been a staple and a favorite to the family," said Denise Rivera, a longtime customer and an Arlington Heights resident. "We're excited that they can get the business up and running and, hopefully, nobody ruins it for anyone. Be safe and smart and pay it forward."
In downtown Naperville, the lunchtime crowd took up half to two-thirds of the outdoor dining area at most restaurants. In Libertyville, Egg Harbor had eight tables set up, with about six in use as the lunch hour ended.
Maybe it was the sunny weather or the feeling of being around people again, Egg Harbor lead manager Joyce Parich said, but the positive vibes were unmistakable.
"There's definitely good energy going on today," she said. "People are laughing again."
Mary Stupen, co-owner of Purple Me Green, The Science Store, was among the retailers to reopen Friday at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.
While the store features mentally stimulating toys and games for children 12 months and older, it's now selling Stupen cloth face masks, made during the state's stay-at-home order. A purple, 22-foot-long van that led to the store's name was used occasionally to deliver the masks and educational products while the Woodfield space was unavailable.
Visitors to Purple Me Green will notice a clear plastic barrier near the register and a cart to the left on which to place items.
"We are super happy to be back in the store," Stupen said. "Our play space is closed due to the (state) regulations. And you know, really, I don't think I would want to have it open right now just to make sure that we keep our customers and our employees safe."
Not all stores were open at Woodfield. Some, such as Forever 21, had lines to get in due to capacity restrictions.
Most customers appeared to be following social distancing guidelines and mask requirements.
The Paul Wolff Campground in Elgin opened at 8 a.m. So, much to his wife's dismay, Darrin Kimsey of Elgin planned to show up at least an hour early to ensure his family would get a campsite.
Kimsey's camper was about seventh in line when they arrived right at 7 a.m., he said. Within 15 minutes, cars and campers filled the long driveway and spilled onto the side of Big Timber Road.
"I've never seen it like that," said Kimsey, whose family typically camps twice a month at various locations during season.
Paul Wolff is convenient and close to home, he said, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the grounds from opening as usual in the beginning of May. Instead, the family started their camping season by driving to Wisconsin.
To Kimsey, camping is the perfect social distancing activity. Other than checking in, during which masks are required, campers generally stay outdoors and away from other people.
Before the health crisis, Chris Murre of Naperville dined almost every day at Jimmy's Grill in the heart of the city's downtown.
The restaurant didn't offer carryout services when the stay-at-home order took effect, meaning Murre wasn't able to get "the best burger in town." He was finally able to return for lunch on the patio Friday with a friend.
"I missed the people. I missed the employees. I missed the food," he said. "It's a good crew."
The patio normally holds 37 tables, but social distancing requirements have placed 21 tables in the dining area, five on a sidewalk along Jefferson Avenue and four near the large door from inside the bar to the patio.
Six servers were working Friday, but General Manager Jim Kuhrt said he is hiring more for the summer.
"I feel the people need some sense of normalcy," he said. "I feel like Jimmy's patio in downtown Naperville on a Friday night in late May is like coming home."
The reopening of Mario Tricoci Hair Salon & Day Spa in Libertyville was big enough to warrant a visit from the founder himself.
The shop has been around 20 years and is the farthest north of the company's 13 locations. Vernon Hills was next on the list for Tricoci, who planned to stop by as many as he could to greet customers and thank his 1,300 employees, the vast majority who have returned to work.
"Our gratification is to hear those words: 'I feel great and look good,'" he said.
Due to high demand and capacity limits, the salon opened at 7 a.m., two hours earlier than normal, and will stay open until 9 p.m. Having booked online, many patrons waited in their cars to receive word that a stylist was ready for them.
Libertyville resident Lori Rupsch, who booked a pedicure, said she felt safe with the required masks and other protocols in place at the salon. Every person who entered was asked questions about exposure and had their temperature taken.
Tricoci's establishments are known for their standards of cleanliness, he said, but "this took us to a level I have never seen before in the industry."
"I think this is absolutely the right time (to open)," he said. "The guests should be at ease. We are extremely well prepared in every facet."
Customers took advantage of the sunny day to dine alfresco as restaurants reopened their patios and outdoor dining areas for their first lunch shift in more than two months.
Among them were Amber and Julius White, who live near downtown Naperville and took their two children out for a meal at the nearby Jackson Avenue Pub.
"It's great being able to start to get back to some sort of normalcy," Amber White said.
Meanwhile, shoppers wearing face masks lined up at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg ahead of its reopening. The shopping center is one of the first suburban malls to reopen with reduced hours, capacity limits and other safety protocols.
Angie Panagakos, 95, of Hoffman Estates said she could not wait to get back to her weekly routine of having her hair styled at pH Salon in Schaumburg. She was dropped off at the door by her daughter and allowed entry after her temperature was taken by pH Salon owner Toni Waitkus.
"Oh, God, I have a ball here," said Panagakos, who received a mask to wear during her visit. "It's the best place to come on Friday."
Panagakos has been a pH Salon client for 15 years. Employees had to refrain from hugging her and kept their social distance while welcoming her back.
"This is my enjoyment," Panagakos said. "I don't do very much. You know, when you get to be a certain age, you don't get around as much."
Waitkus said the salon spaced out appointments for about 40 clients, the usual number for a Friday.
Tyler Hendershot of Streamwood was at Sauvage Barber Parlor in Elgin this morning for a haircut he said he really needed.
"I've been struggling pretty bad. I had my mom cut it and it wasn't that great," Hendershot said.
Stylist and shop owner Angel Daniel had an encouraging assessment: "It was fixable."
By 9:15 a.m., stylist Alex Medina was giving a haircut to his second client of the day: 3-year-old Dawson Naleck of Pingree Grove, whose mom says he was in dire need of a trim.
"Feels great to be back at work," Medina said. "The masks have been a little weird when cutting around the ears at first but you get used to it."
• Daily Herald staff writers Harry Hitzeman, Susan Sarkauskas, Bob Susnjara and Mick Zawislak and photographers Rick West, Brian Hill, John Starks, Mark Welsh and Joe Lewnard contributed to this report.