Numerous Chicagoans emerged from isolation over Memorial Day weekend looking to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather. Many residents and visitors in Andersonville reportedly did not practice social-distancing guidelines, eschewing recommendations for both face coverings and six-foot-spacing, according to bystanders.
In particular, Neighborhood restaurants Hamburger Mary's and Replay Andersonvilleboth at Clark and Balmoral streetsdrew online criticism from locals. Those establishments, like others across the city, have been open for takeout even as their dining rooms have been closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
By almost all accounts, patrons were making drink purchases either at these restaurants or elsewhere in the neighborhood, then failing to move along, leading to more people gathering on the sidewalks.
Activist Rick Garcia called the police after seeing the crowds personally in Andersonville when he was out for a drive the afternoon of May 24. He said that he risked "sounding like Mrs. Kravitz, from Bewitched," but admitted to being angered when he saw crowds congregating outside the establishments.
"What I witnessed was potential death and illness," he said. "All those idiots were partying like it was 1999."
Garcia described the scene outside Hamburger Mary's as "a free-for-all," adding, "People were sitting outside, milling around not even two feet from each other, and with no masks."
Hamburger Mary's co-owner Ashley Wright told Windy City Times, "With it being Memorial Day weekend and the weather being so nice, there were just a lot more people out. Part of our patio is set up year-round. We have some benches that are built in to the trees. We can't chain them up. The tables beside them are very heavy, made from a heavy poly-resin stuff. It's too cumbersome for us to move in and out."
He added that the restaurant has been understaffed since the pandemic began.
"We were not equipped to handle Sunday very well; I will admit to that," Wright said. "It got out of hand; they weren't there that long, but they made their presence known. We became very uncomfortable with the situation and we told them all to leavewhich they did. But then they went across the street to the next place."
Garcia said that he had also seen similar crowds in Lake View the afternoon of May 24, and had notified the police from there as well.
Replay owner Mark Liberson said that his establishment has six signs posted reminding patrons to maintain social distancing, and that an employee had been outside to further enforce the rules. He also told Windy City Times, "The majority of the people we have been serving have been cooperative."
But Liberson said that the crowd essentially overwhelmed the area outside Replay the afternoon of May 24.
"The greatest problem with this is that people in our community know and care about each other," he added. "When they see each other, they have the instinctual desire to stop and catch up. We are working to encourage them not to congregate, and follow the recommendations of the CDC and our mayor."
The issues won't become any easier to address as the summer progresses and the region moves into the next phase of its pandemic response, which will allow outdoor dining with social-distancing precautions.
"The leadership in this country is not modeling behavior uniformly, and it's created confusion," said Liberson.
Illinois is reportedly the only state that has strictly adhered to CDC regulations for reopening, but even locally the potential for confusion and inconsistency in enforcement is great. Block Club Chicago reported May 26, for example, that dispersal enforcement actions over the course of the pandemic have been disproportionately in majority-minority neighborhoods in Chicago.
Meanwhile, business has been a struggle for restaurants and bars that have stayed open. Wright, for one, said that Hamburger Mary's is operating at a loss.
"The entire hospitality industry right now is in a precarious position, and there is no easy answer," Liberson said.
Garcia urged members of the community to be respectful to themselves and others. He lives next door to the lakefront, and said that beachgoers he saw out his window seemed to have no trouble keeping themselves spaced apart. He said he had no regrets about calling the police when spotting the crowd on May 24.
"Maybe it was an overreaction, but you know what? I don't want to get infected, and I don't want my friends to get infected," Garcia said.
Block Club Chicago's article on local dispersal enforcement is at https://bit.ly/2M0jHpY .