Vernon Hills COVID aid for restaurants would waive fees, tax
Dozens of restaurants in Vernon Hills may get a substantive boost from a village assistance package that could total as much as $250,000.
Rather than giving direct financial help, the proposed measures would waive business and liquor license fees for a year and abate a 1% food and beverage tax for six months.
The number could change, but at this point the village estimates about 38 of the village's 84 restaurants would qualify for assistance equating to thousands of dollars for some owners.
To be eligible, a restaurant's main business must be serving food and drinks on its premises. The restaurant also must prove sales have dropped at least 15% between March 2020 and the date of application, compared to the same time frame in 2019.
The incentive wouldn't apply to drive-thrus, corporate-owned chains with more than four locations, grocery or convenience stores, retailers, caterers, food trucks or big boxes.
The intent is to help as many restaurants as possible and provide meaningful relief to those that need it the most, village officials say.
Sit-down, family-owned restaurants like Garden Berry Cafe on the west side of the village fit the description.
Husband and wife Selene Padilla and Jose Jasso opened "the easygoing, friendly cafe serving an all-day menu of breakfast and lunch comfort staples plus coffee," in 2017.
Over the years, other restaurants didn't last in the stand-alone building along busy Route 45. Padilla said customers like the food and family atmosphere, and business was good.
But business has suffered since the pandemic, particularly with the enactment of a second indoor dining restriction at a time when outdoor dining hasn't been feasible.
"It's been really tough," she said. "We went from 17 employees down to five."
Carry out and deliveries are "pretty good" on weekends, according to Padilla, but dry up during the week. Business is down about 60%, she said, and January and February already are traditionally slow months for restaurants.
Vernon Hills has a vast retail base, but village officials are focused on assisting restaurants most in need.
"It seems to be the one business that's been singled out the hardest by the governor's (COVID-19) mitigation strategies," said Village Manager Mark Fleischhauer.
The question before officials was how to provide the most meaningful boost. A gift/card coupon type incentive was rejected because it would involve considerable staff time and was thought to provide a minimal financial impact at best.
According to Fleischhauer, restaurant owners said waiving business and liquor license fees would provide immediate help. The fees are due May 1 and can total $2,500 or more.
As an added incentive, the village for six months will not collect its 1% food and beverage tax. Instead, restaurant owners will be able to pocket the money.
"It's a tax abatement and we're allowing them to keep it," Fleischhauer said. How much that amounts to depends on how much revenue a business generates.
"We're trying to make this as simple as possible," Fleischhauer said.
The village board informally approved the assistance program and is expected to make it official Feb. 2. After that, two sets of license renewal letters will be sent.
Each will include details of the program with eligible businesses getting no-fee licenses. The second will allow business that think they meet the criteria to apply.
"They can contact us. We're not trying to make an arbitrary decision," Fleischhauer said.
"My guess is the program will cost about $250,000," he added.
The program cost won't be included in the 2021-22 budget and likely would be covered by reserves as needed.
"At this point, all the help we can get is appreciated," said Padilla, who was not aware of the pending assistance package. "Fingers crossed better times will come."