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Lake County businesses weather pandemic with positivity, camaraderie

Lake County businesses weather pandemic with positivity, camaraderie

The Vine Martini & Wine Bar sold #communitystrong T-shirts.

Somethings Brewing turned to humor, selling chocolate bars with a side of toilet paper.

And now, as Classic Cinemas theater in Fox Lake reopens, it’s all about the popcorn.

“Everybody’s buying popcorn,” said Chris Johnson, Classic Cinemas chief executive. “For whatever reason, popcorn sales have been extremely strong. I think it is an escape off the couch people have been looking for.”

It seems camaraderie, creativity and cravings are helping Lake County businesses get through the pandemic, among other efforts.

The evolving situation the past few months has impacted every area business differently, with those deemed essential staying open, some having to shut down completely and others having to limit or scale back services.

But a common thread among many of them has been a sense of “We’re all in this together,” said Linda Scholz, owner of Somethings Brewing, which has two locations in Grayslake – downtown and on Washington Street.

“It really has brought us closer with the community,” she said. “We have this huge thing in common, this common thread we’re all talking about.”

With the state in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan, businesses across Illinois and in Lake County have been able to reopen within limits or expand offerings.

Movie theaters have opened, and restaurants have been allowed to resume indoor dining with partial capacity. Limited to prepackaged food the past several months, farmers markets now can add made-to-order food sales, with Scholz eager to bring her Somethings Brewing goodies back to Grayslake’s weekly downtown market from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays.

Phase 4 also allows for limited reopenings of museums and zoos, fitness centers and theaters, as well as expanded gathering sizes, increasing the limit from 10 in Phase 3 to 50 people or fewer.

Survival mode

At Hannah’s Home Accents in downtown Antioch, the beginning of the pandemic meant a complete shutdown.

“That was hard,” said owner Jane Marski, who also owns Hannah’s by the Lake in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where restrictions haven’t been as extensive. “The hardest part probably was the fact I had to lay off my people. I have people that have been with me 35 years. … That was heart-wrenching because I’d never had to do anything like that before, but there was no way around it.”

She continued to offer online products, such as scrapbooking supplies and hanging baskets, and has gradually been able to bring some employees back as she’s moved from solely curbside pickup of products to allowing a limited number of mask-wearing customers into her store.

The store typically doesn’t have any more than eight or 10 people inside at a time, Marski said.

Business has been “OK, but it’s not like it would be or should be,” she said. “I think it’s going to be that way until we get a vaccine or even when we get a vaccine.

“It’s very concerning to me how everybody is going to survive all this,” she said. “This is not going away soon.”

Amid the stress of the unknown, she and other small businesses have supported one another and found resources and tips through the Antioch Chamber of Commerce. With the help of her daughter, Marski turned to videos to get herself out there as social media became a necessary promotional outlet for many small businesses.

The Antioch Chamber has undertaken a back-in-business promotion with ads both in print and on social media, Executive Director Barbara Porch said.

Plans also are underway for summer event programming, she said.

“Everything we can do to bring foot traffic to our business community is a win-win,” she said. “It’s a little too soon to say what their recovery is going to be, but it’s going to take a lot to help the small-business community rebound from what they suffered through the last several months.

“I give a lot of credit to the small-business community that they have soldiered through this. It has been very hard for them financially, and it’s hard on the morale, but they’re still willing to move forward.”

‘A warmup act’

With the new Phase 4 guidelines, Classic Cinemas has brought back some movie favorites, as well as titles given limited big-screen time before theaters closed in March. Classic Cinemas owns 15 theaters in Illinois and Wisconsin, including its only Lake County theater in Fox Lake.

Movies showing July 3 at the Fox Lake location include newer releases “Bloodshot,” “Trolls World Tour” and “The Invisible Man,” as well as classics such as “Ghostbusters” and “Jurassic Park,” among others.

“What we’re trying to do is have this as a warmup act to new movies and get the guests comfortable with what we’re doing and say, ‘I like this. It’s nice to get off the couch and go out.’ I think this is really just a prelude to the real act, which is new movies.”

Guests must wear face coverings until they’re seated in the auditorium. They’re encouraged to buy tickets ahead of time and asked to leave three seats between parties in the auditorium.

The theater has a limited capacity of 50% and staggered showtimes to eliminate lobby congestion.

‘Feeling the love’

Seating also is extremely limited at restaurants. Still, customers have responded.

“It’s not the normal hustle and bustle we’re used to, but it’s busier than what we expected,” said Michael Pruitt, owner of The Vine Martini & Wine Bar in Grayslake.

The Vine has brought its staff up to 80% and now offers both indoor and outdoor seating, with 10 tables inside and 10 tables outside, all at least 6 feet apart.

The business “went gung-ho into a lot of things” when the pandemic began, he said, selling its inventory of liquor bottles to go, as well as the T-shirts, which raised about $20,000 to help support staff and keep the door open.

“I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job about it. We’ve survived so far,” Pruitt said. “I can’t say we’ve survived because it’s not over yet, but we are definitely maintaining. We’ve adapted. It’s a constant battle of trying to stay relevant.”

Promotion efforts on social media have helped. And if anyone runs out of food or supplies, their fellow business owners have stepped in to help out, Pruitt said.

“Everybody has each other’s back,” he said. “It’s definitely created this close community among business owners.”

While many have brought back limited indoor seating, Somethings Brewing in Grayslake opted to hold off on indoor dining.

“Talking to our customers, most of them have said they’re not comfortable sitting in a restaurant with masks off, and I want to keep my staff safe,” Scholz said.

Besides, she said, along with the chocolate bars, the business has found success with expanded outdoor seating and its carryout service and products. Somethings Brewing offers everything from baked goods to homemade soups, sandwiches and salads to take-home favorites such as mason jars of homemade salad dressing and, of course, a full coffee bar.

“People were making a point of coming here and buying things – so many goodies, rice crispy treats, gummies, candies. They were stocking up,” Scholz said. “We’re definitely feeling the love.”

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