'We are all sorts of angry and frustrated': DeKalb city leaders react to business ban

City leaders react to business ban, offer advice, aid on how to staunch losses

DeKALB – As business leaders gathered at City Hall to express frustrations and ideas following a ban on dine-in services due to COVID-19 concerns, city officials said they'll attempt to support temporary measures to ensure revenue keeps coming in.

City Manager Bill Nicklas said he’s proposing a 90-day packaged liquor license for businesses who already hold liquor licenses, so that they can sell a six-pack or wine by the bottle as part of their curbside pickup for patrons who would normally be able to go inside and grab a drink.

“We are all sorts of angry and frustrated, but there’s nobody in particular to vent at or shout at,” Nicklas said. “We know what we’ve been dealt. We have no authority at the local level to change the governor’s order.”

Tuesday began Day 1 of dine-in service being banned in all bars and restaurants across the state, as Gov. JB Pritzker continues efforts to the prevent the continued spread of coronavirus, which has now been confirmed in 160 people in 15 counties. Many eateries in the area will continue to keep their kitchens operational and offer curbside pickup or delivery, though the fear of lost revenue and losing workers grows.

“Is this an overabundance of caution? Perhaps,” Mayor Jerry Smith said. “We could argue ‘til the cows come. The governor was making one thing very clear and that is no one is immune [to] this virus.”

The meeting wasn’t attended by more than a handful of business owners, though they included Hometown Sports Bar & Grill’s Tom Schmidt, Tom Tsagalis of The Junction Eating Place, members of the Balli family of Rosita’s Mexican Restaurant, Tim Hays of Bard City Bagels and JD Heinrich of The Forge Brewhouse among others, as well as Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore.

Heinrich said he wasn’t happy with Pritzker’s actions, which he called “government overreach.”

“The government is way overreaching on this deal,” Heinrich said. “They’re singling out places like mine and everyone else, yet the [darn] airports are open where they’ve got people flying in all day.”

When asked if the city has contingency plans for when loss of sales tax revenue from business shutdowns will affect the budget, Nicklas said it’s something “he worries about every day.”

“When it comes to sales tax, I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet like we’re going to see over the course of this year,” Nicklas said, adding he’ll have more “reliable” numbers in June.

Steps business owners

should take to help stem losses

Tsagalis said perhaps the government would allow dine-in service if patrons were made to sit at every other booth. Keicher said he agreed, and detailed conversations in Springfield where legislators are attempting to come up with solutions to stabilize loss of revenue for business owners.

“They’re looking at two things, extension of sales tax due date as well as payment within 30 days to avoid being on the blacklist to the distributors for alcohol,” Keicher said. “And a return policy to be able to return alcohol you’ve already been supplied with to the distributor.”

DeKalb County Convention & Visitors Bureau Board Chairman Brad Hoey said owners should keep a list of their losses, whether they are a restaurant, bar or hotel.

Keicher recommended keeping a running list of food and product waste to track spoilage. He said while he doesn’t agree with everything Pritzker’s done in the last week – including banning dine-in service outright – he acknowledges the governor’s acting within his statutory powers.

"We know the governor has access to information we don't have," Keicher said. "Maybe what he's done has been overreach, but let's allow him to protect the people of the state of Illinois and judge him when this is over.
That doesn't eliminate the economic hardship that everyone is going through."