Vernon Hills officials plan to extend restaurant assistance program
Dining restrictions have eased, but Vernon Hills village officials plan to extend an assistance program to help restaurants gain a post-pandemic foothold.
"Although Illinois has moved to Phase 5, we felt that giving (restaurants) another quarter to help get them back on their feet was necessary," village Trustee Craig Takaoka said.
Saying restaurants were hit hard by Illinois' COVID-19 mitigation strategies, the board on Feb. 2 approved two measures intended to provide meaningful restaurant assistance. Like other communities, Vernon Hills waived annual business and liquor license fees, which could total $2,500 or more, to provide immediate help.
The second part of the package allowed eligible restaurants to keep a 1% village food and beverage tax. How much an individual business could gain depended on the amount of business generated.
At the time, the program was to expire June 30. So far, the cost to the village in lost revenue has been about $130,000 -- $75,000 in fees and $55,000 from the 1% food and beverage tax.
The target was independent or smaller operations, and the assistance did not apply to drive-thrus, corporate-owned chains with more than four locations, grocery or convenience stores, retailers, caterers, food trucks or big boxes.
Eligible restaurants had to prove sales dropped at least 15% between March 2020 and the date of application, compared to the same time in 2019.
Initially, Village Manager Mark Fleischhauer estimated 38 of the village's 84 restaurants would be eligible. The actual number was 47, he reported in a brief update last week.
"Everyone to a person has been extremely appreciative," he said.
With that, Takaoka suggested, and the board informally agreed, to extend the program to Sept. 30. An official vote is scheduled for July 6.
"I think it's monumental they're taking that approach," said Danny Caldwell, owner of Nirvana Wine & Grillerie in the Rivertree Court shopping center.
Caldwell said he isn't aware of any other community assisting restaurants to this extent.
Even with limited capacity, expenses like rent and utilities in some cases didn't change.
"From that aspect, every penny mattered," said Michael Holleb, owner of the Claim Company at Hawthorn Mall. Claim Company also has a location in Northbrook.
Holleb said the restaurant is starting to see a comeback but still is not seating every table. He said he was "surprised and happy" about the pending assistance extension.
"It makes a difference. There's no question," he said.
Vernon Hills has a vast commercial base but has reiterated an intent to ensure the long-term success of its restaurants.
"I think it helped out a lot and it shows the dedication this village board has toward the business community," Village Attorney Jim Ferolo said. "It just give them (restaurants) a few more months to get some traction," he added.