The new week dawned Monday, somewhat incongruously, with a celebration.
In the face of a state-imposed lockdown of businesses like bars and restaurants set for later that night and calls for social distancing by health experts and elected officials, about two dozen employees and a few local dignitaries huddled to cut the ribbon on a new Hobby Lobby store on Cermak Road in North Riverside.
The event started with a prayer.
Within the next hour, in response to the national, state and county states of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. announced that the village board meeting scheduled that night was postponed and that as of 4:30 p.m. that day, the Village Commons building would be closed, except for voting during the March 17 presidential primary, until March 30.
“Employees will be in the building and residents can still communicate by phone and email,” Hermanek said.
Other municipalities also moved Monday to close some access to the public. Riverside and Brookfield both closed their Parks and Recreation departments to the public and canceled all programs and events. In addition, Riverside’s Department of Public Works is closed to the public until further notice.
Late last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all schools, both public and private, shut (See accompanying story). But, before that, as local schools and libraries started announcing the cancellation of programs, events and sports, a kind of quiet panic was setting in.
That unease manifested itself prominently Friday, when crowds descended on grocery stores and began picking shelves clean. The trend continued into Monday as the governor ordered the closure of bars and restaurants effective Monday night at 9 p.m.
There was a run, in particular, on paper products – which were not to be seen after Saturday afternoon at Costco in North Riverside and were in low supply elsewhere. Grocery store managers, meanwhile, worked overtime to keep shelves stocked as best they could.
“Friday, Saturday, Sunday and part of today this is where the line started,” said Dennis Tischler, owner of Tischler Finer Foods in Brookfield on Monday afternoon. At the time he was standing about 10 feet from the rear wall of the store. “For all the registers. People were back here to get in line.”
The shelves at Tischler’s were not packed, but they were not bare either and contained some items, like chicken and bread, that other, larger chains lacked. That’s despite having been largely cleared out on Sunday.
“We had two overpacked semis this morning that unloaded before 7 a.m.,” Tischler said. “Those produce cases were about 5 percent filled. Deli and dairy over there – same thing.
“I’ve been on the phone. All I’ve been doing is ordering, and our purveyors have been servicing us.”
Elsewhere in North Riverside, at Costco, Jewel and Aldi – where corporate high-ups had forbidden store level employees from speaking to the press – signs of similar challenges were obvious. The normally stocked-to-the-ceiling shelves at Costco were depleted and a sign out front Monday listed items no longer in supply, from bleach to toilet paper to diapers.
On Sunday afternoon, Costco was out of fresh pork (save for five slabs of pork belly), chicken and fish. Sitting in cases normally reserved for those products were mac and cheese, too-soon-for Easter spiral hams and $100 whole Serrano hams, which likely were deemed by panic-shoppers as a bit of an extravagance.
By Monday, the management had changed its entry/exit policy, instituting separate entrances and posting staff members at the entrance to sanitize carts and manage entry. Signs reminded customers to maintain their social distance from one another.
Jewel in North Riverside also was having trouble keeping shelves stocked, with wide areas – water, some produce, canned goods, pasta and bread – empty of merchandise. Store manager Meghan Henehan directed questions to the corporate office, but called business “record busy.”
But that busy-ness has its limits and by Monday, a sign on the door at Jewel indicated that the store’s hours had been cut. Closing time had been moved from 1 a.m. to 10 p.m.
At Aldi, some shelf areas that held canned goods, pasta, milk and eggs and all paper goods emptied out beginning late last week.
While the man who identified himself as the manager declined to speak to a reporter on Friday during a particularly busy time of the customer rush, it was clear what he was up against. He was seated at a cash register, checking items.
While the government-ordered shutdowns were having a clear impact on the grocery business – good as well as challenging – for other commercial sectors, it’s looking decidedly dicey.
North Riverside Park Mall, on top of other challenges it faces as a commercial retail center, reduced its hours beginning Tuesday. The mall’s hours were reduced to Monday through Saturday noon to 7 p.m. and Sundays noon to 6 p.m.
According to mall general manager Harvey Ahitow, the mall has increased its housekeeping hours “to disinfect all touch points in the shopping areas as often as possible.”
The children’s play area in the lower-level concourse was closed until further notice and the food court dining area was closed per Pritzker’s order. Meals from food court restaurants can be ordered to take home beginning March 17.
In addition, the mall entertainment center Round One announced Sunday it would close for two weeks, effective March 16. On Monday, Classic Cinemas, which operates the movie theater at the mall, announced that as of 7:50 p.m. that night, they were closing down until further notice.
“We look to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so,” said CEO Chris Johnson in a note to customers on the company’s website.
That action followed in the wake of the theater chain initially capping ticket sales at 60 percent of capacity.
Urban Air, the indoor adventure park that opened in the North Riverside Park Plaza shopping center less than a month ago, also announced Monday it would be closed until at least March 23 after limiting entry over the weekend to pre-booked parties only.
Also closing as of 9 p.m. Monday were all 16 of the standalone gambling parlors in North Riverside, per the governor’s order, according to Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. Also suspended during that time, of course, will be the taxes the village collects from video gambling. In February, that revenue amounted to a little more than $30,000.
“It’s catastrophic,” Hermanek said of the restaurant/bar shutdown, shorter hours at the mall and the closure of entertainment venues.
Not only will that have an impact on foot traffic and sales at the mall, it will also have an impact on sales and amusement taxes the village collects.
“I hope the powers that be realize this is going to be bad for workers like bartenders and owners of the mom-and-pop places,” Hermanek said.