'This is like normal': Suburbs move into Phase 4 of reopening plan
Restaurants began serving customers indoors. Museums and movie theaters started reopening with limited occupancy. People could visit zoos, work out at gyms and gather in groups of 50 or less.
Suburban residents were given the green light Friday to resume various social and recreational activities -- with restrictions -- as the state moves into Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan.
Some commemorated the milestone by dining inside their favorite restaurants for the first time since mid-March. Others browsed a local museum or returned to their gyms after months of getting creative with at-home exercises.
"I feel like a lot of people's lives have been impacted the last few months. People have been living in a bubble," said Huntley resident Trevor Vogal, a member of Northwestern Medicine Health and Fitness Center. "It's nice to see a little bit of normalcy coming back."
For customers of The Original Granny's, the first order of business was eating a hearty breakfast inside the Wheeling restaurant on a rainy morning. Ben Kelle of Mount Prospect and his daughter, Lisa Kelle, were among the first to revisit the neighborhood favorite.
"We always loved Granny's, so we come here quite often," Ben said. "This is like normal."
"We're not adjusting to the new normalcy; we want the old normalcy," Lisa added.
The Phase 4 benchmark has been achieved through the reduction of average daily COVID-19 infections and the availability of hospital beds, among other metrics. But health experts urge caution as residents enjoy their newfound freedoms.
Capacities are capped, masks are encouraged and other social distancing protocols remain in effect.
Sanitizing stations and signage were added throughout Northwestern Medicine's fitness centers in Huntley and Crystal Lake. All members and employees must be screened, and masks are required unless visitors are able to maintain a 6- to 8-foot distance while exercising, Senior Director Ryan Messinger said.
North Suburban YMCA in Northbrook reopened its fitness center and weight room by appointment only to keep members spaced apart.
The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Oak Brook spent several weeks implementing new safety guidelines before accepting reservations and walk-ins Friday, Director Dorothy Asher said. Guests will be given inexpensive styluses to use the touch screens and other interactive features throughout the facility.
"(It's) a real change from the way we normally would operate," she said. "That's been very time consuming."
At The Original Granny's, every other booth is closed to ensure 50% capacity and 6-foot separation between parties, General Manager Peter Kastanis said. Servers must use a fresh cup for every beverage refill as well.
"It's bittersweet for the business, but at least we know we're keeping people healthy," he said.
Similar distancing regulations are in place at Alter Brewing, which opened a new taproom and kitchen in St. Charles just last month.
"It's been the most challenging environment I've ever opened a restaurant in, and I've opened about 10," partner Ken Henricks said as the establishment welcomed customers to its indoor dining area Friday. "We'll continue on with things we were doing during Phase 3 and just (be) as cautious as we can possibly be."
The Landmark Bar and Grille in Northbrook is allowing about 40 customers in at a time, compared to its usual 150-person capacity, co-owner Helene Kapetaneas said. Some regulars have been "ecstatic" to dine inside, she said, while other customers seemed a little anxious.
"Everybody just takes it differently," she said.
Crystal Lake resident Betty Stork took comfort in the spacing of guests at Lincolnshire's Strawberry Field Pancakes and Cafe.
"The distancing really helps," she said as she joined three friends for lunch.
Meanwhile, some restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other facilities are holding off on loosening restrictions right away. Some YMCA fitness centers will start opening Wednesday, while others, including Elmhurst, are waiting until Aug. 1.
Recreation Pool in Arlington Heights is targeted for a July 6 reopening, the same day the Fox River Valley Public Library District will resume limited operations at its East and West Dundee facilities.
At Fry the Coop in Elmhurst, Oak Lawn and Chicago, owner and founder Joe Fontana said he doesn't want to risk opening the dining rooms too soon out of concern for his employees and customers.
"I know everyone's getting antsy and everyone wants to go out and be back to normal, but I still feel like we're kind of in the thick of things," he said. "We're keeping our staff as safe as we can, and it's working, so why jeopardize that?"
He and his management team are "taking it day by day, week by week," Fontana said, noting he plans to survey his employees to gauge their comfort level. The restaurants have converted their doors into takeout windows, allowing them to continue operating successfully.
But he recognizes that not all businesses have been so lucky.
At gyms like Crunch Fitness, the one-on-one training sessions and outdoor classes allowed under Phase 3 cost more money than they made, said Keith Smith, district manager for the Schaumburg, Mount Prospect and Aurora franchises. The facilities can now open with 50% occupancy under Phase 4, which leaves the business a bit short of its goal but provides more sustainability.
Business at The Original Granny's dropped about 80% the first month of the shutdown, even though carryout service was still available, Kastanis said.
Through social media and mass marketing, business jumped back up to 50% of the norm in the second month. The introduction of outdoor and now limited indoor dining is continuing to restore business.
Returning to work Friday for the first time since March, server Donna Larson of Palatine said she was surprised by the feeling of newness that accompanied the long-anticipated day.
"It means getting my legs back under me," she said laughing. "I'm nervous. I feel like a rookie. I've been doing this for 30 years."
All 16 of the employees that were working at the restaurant before the stay-at-home order are expected back within the next few days.
"I love this place," Larson said. "It's like family here."
• Daily Herald staff writers Eric Peterson, Russell Lissau and Dave Oberhelman and photographers Rick West and Paul Valade contributed to this report.