No more capacities: Businesses in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties expect rush in Phase 5

Event venues, large events can operate to pre-pandemic crowds

Bill Phelan has a busy summer ahead.

The owner/operator of the Silver Fox, an events venue in Streator, said the next six months will be the busiest he’s ever been.

Beginning Friday, there will be no capacity limitations on events, including weddings. Phelan said his venue has been limiting weddings to no more than 100 people. Now that cap is off.

“We rescheduled all of our 2020 weddings, but then we have all the people who wanted to get married in 2021, so we have weddings scheduled on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays now,” Phelan said.

Illinois enters Phase 5 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s reopening plan Friday, June 11. Phase 5 allows for full capacity at businesses, restaurants, bars, large-scale events, conventions, amusement parks, zoos and seated spectator events.

Conventions, festivals and large events can return without capacity restrictions. Large gatherings of all sizes can resume across all industry settings, and Phase 5 removes requirements that businesses institute mandatory social distancing in seated venues, as well as daily health screenings of employees and visitors.

The governor’s office said businesses and venues still are expected to continue to allow for social distancing to the extent possible, especially indoors. Businesses and local municipalities can put in place additional mitigations as they deem appropriate.

Phelan said his venue started scheduling larger weddings months ago for June and beyond, because he saw the trend the state was going in and knew a full reopening was imminent.

“We’re ready,” Phelan said. “We’ve already had some smaller weddings and it was so nice to see people get back to socializing with each other. It’s good to see everyone having a good time again.”

Since his business is mostly family-run, he said he’s in a good place when it comes to having enough employees to cover the bustling business.

“I have a solid core group of people,” he said.

While businesses are happy things are returning more to normal, it has been difficult to adapt.

Mickey’s Massive Burritos owner Mickey Venegas said he’s seen an increase of customers dining in. He said he has noticed a nice change since about a year ago when restaurants were allowed to open up for outdoor dining and it’s gradually increased as guidelines have lessened.

The challenge, however, has been accommodating the increase in customers.

“We can’t get no help,” Venegas said. “As you go around the area and hear people saying, ‘I’ve got to cut back here and I’ve got to cut back here,’ because if I work my workers to much they might quit on us and so and so.

“It’s hard right now because we are doing the best we can and I think that customers know that, but it’s hard because we are getting busier than we were a year ago and there’s no people to help us.”

Venegas mentioned he really would like to increase his staffing moving forward and it is difficult to find help.

“I’m worried because we have all of these customers and I’m worried.”

Venegas said during the pandemic he has continued to operate the store with the lower amount of staff and restated his worry for overworking and burning out the employees that he does have.

“I’m worried about burning out what we have,” he said. “You know, it burns out everybody and the heat doesn’t help. A lot of people that work in the restaurant business, they have a lot of pride and they want to be good at it.”

With the state opening up on Friday, Venegas mentioned his business will have to continue to operate as they have been, with the hopes of help to come.

“Hopefully we don’t get slammed, we’ll just be prepared with what he have and do the best we can, that’s all we can do,” he said.

Venegas mentioned because his business does catering and will begin going to festivals around the Illinois Valley it increases his need to find staffers that can perform adequately.

Friday’s reopening across the state has made life easier on festival planners.

The Marseilles City Council was waiting to see how the state guidelines and COVID-19 numbers shook out before saying yes to Freedom Fest downtown, the Saturday, June 19, festival following the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run.

Now, the festival is a go. Bands will perform from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Main Street as thousands are expected to attend the party.

On Thursday, the recorded the lowest number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, the lowest test positivity rate, and more than 68% of Illinois residents age 18 and over who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. In La Salle County, there are 42,151 residents fully-vaccinated, which is 38.5% of the county’s population. Bureau is at 37.6% of its population fully-vaccinated, Putnam 38.9% and Livingston 35.1%.

“A strong economy requires that people not only feel safe, but truly be safe, as they go about their lives as workers, neighbors, consumers, and friends — and thanks to the lifesaving power of vaccinations, that day is finally here for Illinois,” Pritzker said. “I invite all Illinoisans to feel the hope and joy of this moment while also recognizing that this pandemic is still very present for the world at large — not to mention those here at home who have not been or cannot be vaccinated. As we take this next step forward, let’s do so with a renewed commitment to empathy, to community, and to making each day together count. You did it, Illinois.”

Consistent with CDC guidance, fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated persons are required to wear a face covering in certain situations, including on public transportation, planes, buses, trains, and in transportation hubs such as airports and train and bus stations; in congregate facilities such as correctional facilities and homeless shelters; and in health care settings. 

Individuals in schools and day cares must also continue to wear face coverings per guidance issued by the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Department of Children and Famiy Services and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Derek Barichello

Derek is a Streator High and University of Illinois graduate. He worked at the Albany-Herald in Albany, Ga., and for Sauk Valley Media in Sterling, before returning to his hometown paper. He's now news editor for both the NewsTribune and The Times.

Jayce Eustice

Covering local government, breaking news and whatever is thrown at me for the La Salle News Tribune