Lane’s local businesses press on in hard times

Waveland+Bowl+open+and+ready+for+customers+on+Sunday%2C+Sept.+13%2C+2020.

Jack Belmont

Waveland Bowl open and ready for customers on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020.

By Jack Belmont, Photo Editor

 

A typical day at Waveland Bowl has bowlers crowding the seats on the dark, neon lit floor. Above each lane, retractable projector screens play music videos of top hits like Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” and kids eat cake for their friends’ birthday parties. Early Monday afternoon, however, there was only one small group of bowlers. 

“It’s been slow, but it’s starting to pick up,” Waveland Bowl manager Gary Handler said. “Today was our first full day open [since March].”

Glenn Pruchnick, owner of Alley Dogs, the restaurant in Waveland Bowl just blocks north of Lane on Western Ave., had to cut working hours and employees over the past months due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many other Chicago businesses are going through the same thing.

Businesses and restaurants have faced unparalleled hardships in the past months. In a virtual conference with the City Club of Chicago, Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said restaurant sales are down as much as 80%. 

In light of this, businesses are faced with tough choices on how to respond. Navy Pier, for example, is temporarily closing Sept. 8 through at least the end of the year. 

“The cost to continue to operate with such low return is debilitating,” said Navy Pier President Marilynn Gardner in an interview with The Warrior. 

She added that upon reopening on June 10, the pier was not allowed to run amusement rides, attractions or event facilities, and the pier saw just 15% of its annual attendance this summer, in what she says are otherwise the “most successful months” of the year.

Gardner also addressed the 70 independently owned businesses that operate on site. 

“That was another major factor that went into our decision,” Gardner said. “They’ll be able to reopen after saving what they could over the winter. Hopefully that’s early spring.”

Other businesses are making it work the best they can. Pi-Hi Cafe, also on Western Ave., says they are holding on until the end of the year. 

“Basically 70% of our business comes from Lane,” manager Johnathan Rodriguez said. “It’s been hard for us, trying to keep the doors open.” 

He says the restaurant is currently operating as usual, and they are figuring out the best course of action going forward.

For the businesses that stay open, procedures are much different, with new guidelines for how a space should operate during a pandemic. 

“Out here we’re using every other lane, 10 feet away from the next group,” Handler said. 

The alley also has several carts available for sanitizing bowling balls, touch screens, chairs and tables.

“The cost to operate is so much greater now with these social distancing requirements,” Gardner said. “There is an additional cost, not only on the housekeeping side, but on the guest experience side. We have to ensure that we’re providing for their safety.”

“We put up eight hand sanitizing stations,” Pruchnick said. “At the restaurant, the condiment area is all single touch packets.”

Pruchnick said he had not heard anything about the high school bowling league, which he says would cause a big blow to the alley if cancelled. 

With these burdens being placed on small business, Gardner is optimistic customers will come to aid in the coming months, in different ways. For example, a substantial amount of customers paid for parking on the pier this summer. 

“In light of how things went attendance wise, our parking numbers were really strong,” she said. “People are electing to drive their own cars, rather than Uber, Lyft or public transportation.”

Gardner also anticipates Chicagoans will start “rediscovering their own neighborhoods” after being cooped up inside for so long. 

“People have been staying close to home — they’re walking to a restaurant rather than venturing all the way downtown,” she said. “I think that’s true of the suburbs, I think that’s true of our 77 neighborhoods of Chicago.”

Until in person learning resumes, it’ll be up to the residents of Lane Tech’s surrounding neighborhoods to support these small businesses while so many of their student patrons are at home.