BY SHELBY NIEHAUS
On Sunday, March 15, Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker ordered all Illinois bars and restaurants to close in-house food and drink service as of Tuesday, March 17 in an unprecedented and wide-reaching move to limit the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. The move came on the heels of a March 17 school closure that was ordered only days before, and has thrown the local food service and restaurant industry on its head.
Restaurant owners across the area have had to scramble to make plans for the shutdown. While a few bars—those that serve exclusively alcohol in particular—have closed their doors for the duration, many establishments have made plans to weather the shutdown. Some, like The Open Door Diner of Altamont have announced plans to offer delivery for the first time; others, like Joe’s Pizza and Pasta, have produced public announcements from store owners offering personal support to customers and neighbors.
Across the board, business owners have been compliant with the shutdown. “I see the reason for the quarantine,” says Danielle Higgs of On the Rox Pub and Grub of rural Altamont. Daryl Calvert of Daryl’s Dine-In in St. Elmo reports that her establishment is complying as much as they can; a public Facebook post from The Open Door Diner reads that the diner is “trying [their] hardest to safely serve [the] community through this time.”
Others, while complying with gubernatorial orders, have expressed frustration with the shutdown in a number of ways. Several business owners declined to comment for this story; one comment we heard several times was “you don’t want to know what I think.”
James Oldfield, speaking for Mary Ann’s in St. Elmo, was one of the few who did comment, saying that he felt Pritzker’s administration was “singling out restaurants and bars.”
“I understand what they’re doing… it just feels like we’re being singled out,” he said, noting that most other workplaces, including large employers like factories where employees would be in greater number than CDC and state guidelines recommend, were still open, and that primary elections slated for the same day as the restaurant closure were not postponed.
Even among those who agreed with or were neutral about the shutdown, dissatisfaction and concern was high. Several businesses, in speaking to the Altamont News and St. Elmo Banner over the past week, reported slacks in sales. Fred Richter at Luke’s Bar and Grill noted a slow dinner on Wednesday evening, picking up for lunch the next day—Higgs of On the Rox Pub and Grub commented that business was overall “slower” in the days after the bar closure. Conversely, Tiffany Wasson of The Giving Plate reported a slight increase in business.
Grocery stores in the area are also feeling the press. Both Dimple Kaur of T&J Food Mart of St. Elmo and Jerry White of S&W Supermarket in Altamont commented that they had difficulties securing grocery supplies. Kaur and White both additionally noted that they have been increasingly careful with hygiene in recent weeks; Jim Stuckemeyer of The Cookie Jar in Altamont, whose establishment produces food but is not subject to shutdown, echoed his commitment to in-store hygiene.
“We’re trying to do the best we can,” said White.
Illinois workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19-related shutdowns are eligible for unemployment benefits through the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). Those who have no access to sick leave, or who are unable to work because of COVID-19, may call IDES at 1-800-244-5631 or visit ww2.illinois.gov/ides to apply. Small businesses can also apply for up to $2 million in low-interest disaster assistance loans through the Small Business Administration at DisasterLoan.sba.gov.
Additionally, bartenders in need of assistance may apply for grants through the United States Bartender Guild’s National Charity Foundation. Applicants need not be a USBG member. Apply online at USBGFoundation.org/beap.
Finally, as of Thursday afternoon, March 19, Gov. Pritzker directed the Illinois Department of Revenue “to defer sales tax payments for more than 24,000 small- and medium-sized bars and restaurants.” “Under the directive, eating and drinking establishments that incurred less than $75,000 in sales tax liabilities last year will not be charged penalties or interest on payments due in March, April or May made late. The Department of Revenue estimates this will give relief to nearly 80% of bars and restaurants in Illinois,” says a press release from the governor’s office.
In service of local businesses, the Altamont News and St. Elmo Banner asks you to consider supporting a local restaurant during the COVID-19 shutdown. Please additionally consider shopping local for your groceries, both to limit the spread of illness and to support your friends and neighbors.
The following information is current as of Thursday, March 19. Please understand that information has been changing rapidly. If you or a loved one are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19—those with underlying health conditions like heart and lung disease or diabetes, those with compromised or weakened immune systems, and those over the age of 65—please consider notifying your server to ensure extra vigilance and precaution.
St. Elmo Area Food and Drink
Window pickup only. Hours 11 a.m.-1 p.m., 4-9 p.m. most days. Updates and daily specials to be posted on Facebook. (618) 829-9727
In-store pickup and delivery within city limits. Hours 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. (618) 829-9960
Mitchell Packaged Liquor
No shutdowns apply. Hours unchanged. (618) 461-1061
T&J Food Mart
No shutdowns apply. Store is frequently sanitized. (618) 829-3318
Brownstown Area Food and Drink
Call in for curbside or drive through pickup. Drive through open on east side of establishment. Hours 6 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. Updates and daily specials to be posted on Facebook. (618) 427-3629
Carry-out and delivery within city limits Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 4-9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Offering select meal sets; no buffet. (618) 367-9087
Package liquor offered. Hours 3-7 p.m. on weekdays. Some selections may be limited. (618) 427-4015
Call in for pickup service. Hours 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Updates and daily specials to be posted on Facebook.
Altamont Area Food and Drink
Bella’s Gaming and Spirits
Closed as of day-end Wednesday, March 18. Will reopen after shutdown lifts. Updates to be posted on Facebook.
Closed as of Friday, March 20 due to unrelated circumstances. Cooks to appear this summer at Deken Park concession stand during baseball season in St. Elmo. Updates to be posted on Facebook.
Joe’s Pizza and Pasta
Delivery, in-store, and curbside pickup available. Hours unchanged. (618) 483-9567
Keith’s Blue Mound Tavern
Will reopen after shutdown lifts. Updates to be posted on Facebook.
Luke’s Bar and Grill
Carryout service offered 11 a.m.-2 p.m. daily, and 5-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Delivery not offered. Updates and daily specials to be posted on Facebook. (618) 483-6820
McDonald’s of Altamont
Drive through only. Hours unchanged. (618) 483-5354
On the Rox Pub and Grub
Bar closed during shutdown. Package liquor and daily food specials open for carryout. Hours unchanged. Updates and daily specials to be posted to Facebook. (618) 483-9655
No shutdowns apply. Currently offering curbside pickup and grocery delivery. Store is frequently sanitized. Some grocery items limited by suppliers. (618) 483-6191
Sporty’s Beverage Connection
Closed as of Sunday, March 15 due to unrelated circumstances.
Subway of Altamont
Drive through open, to be used for call-in and remote ordering as well as normal drive through service.
The Cookie Jar
No shutdowns apply. Store will practice vigilance in cleaning. Opens daily at 6 a.m., may be subject to earlier closures (normally closes 3 p.m. weekdays, noon Saturdays). Closed Sunday. (618) 483-9004
The Giving Plate
Carry-out only; customers are asked not to enter the building. Hours unchanged. Updates and daily specials to be posted to Facebook. (618) 483-3777
The Open Door Diner
Open for in-store pickup and delivery within Altamont city limits through March 30. Updates and daily specials to be posted on Facebook. (618) 267-8499
The Whistle Stop Saloon
Bar and lunch service closed during shutdown. Package liquor store open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday. Will post updates on Facebook. (618) 483-5815
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7676
Bar closed during shutdown. Expected to reopen March 31.