By SAMANTHA PIDDE
With restaurants and bars closed to diners by Gov. JB Pritzker until at least the end of the month, many local business owners are banding together and are working to continue provide service to the public, while trying to minimize the spread of the virus.
Among several Mount Carroll restaurants offering carry-out and delivery options is Charlie's II, 123 W. Market St. Owners Stacie and Robert Klein confirmed Thursday, March 19, that the restaurant has been offering curb-side pick-up and delivery since the forced closure March 17.
While the first day was quite slow, Stacie indicated business is beginning to pick up, saying, "The community's being really awesome," noting she has received many messages from people asking if the Kleins need any help.
Robert said area food establishments are trying to work together during this difficult time. He said Charlie's II and JJ & Freddie's at Sievert's, next door, are staggering their hours — Charlie's for lunch and early afternoon and JJ's for afternoon and dinner — as not to be in direct competition.
Robert said that on Friday, March 20, he planned to purchase donuts from Kountry Kettle in Savanna and include one as dessert with each order as a reminder that that restaurant is offering curbside service as well. The Mount Carroll Cafe' (Rita's) and the Mount Carroll Bowling Center also are offering carry-out options.
Due to reduced hours and business, Stacie and Robert had to make the difficult decision to operate the business with just the two of them, laying off their other staff for the time being.
"It's something I don't want to do, but it's something we have to do," Stacie said.
She said that she initially offered continued work to the employees, but warned it would be significantly less hours. Currently, employees displaced from work due to the coronavirus COVID-19 are able to seek unemployment online. As of Thursday morning, March 19, at least one of the Charlie's II staff had been approved.
Stacie said her employees know their jobs will be waiting for them She also told them if they found a new job in the interim, she would not be upset. Stacie said her staff is like family and she has offered any assistance she can give, even providing some of her extra food to those unable to get to the store.
"They know if they need something, they can call me," Stacie said.
Any Illinois resident laid off due to the coronavirus can file for unemployment at http://www.ides.illinois.gov.
Amanda Kampmeier, owner of Kountry Kettle, 1811 Chicago Ave., Savanna, said she is impressed with how local restaurants are helping each other during the pandemic.
"People are really trying to pull together and support each other," said Kampmeier, about area businesses. "We're all just working together."
Kountry Kettle continues to maintain its normal hours for the time being, offering both carry-out and curbside options to customers.
"If they feel comfortable, they can come in, if not we will take it out to them," she said.
Kampmeier said she was surprised how many orders she continues to receive for homemade donuts. She is asking anyone wanting donuts to call 24 hours in advance and is requiring a minimum of one dozen per order.
Like other businesses, Kountry Kettle had to cut staff hours, completely laying off one employee and reducing two others to half of their normal hours. Kampmeier said that for a business with only six employees, this is reduction of approximately one-third of her staff.
Kampmeier said they are adjusting plans for the business daily and see how things progress. She wanted to thank everyone in the community for being so supportive.
"Everyone's in the same boat," Kampmeier said.
Manny's Pizza, 211 Main St., Savanna, also has had to drastically cut its staff during the closure. Manager Jessica Ervin said the restaurant tried to give priority to any staff in which this is their full-time or only job, or if they are the primary wage earner or head of their household.
Manny's is currently offering curbside only and delivery service; there is no more walk-in pick-up. Hours are 3-8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The restaurant is closed Monday and Tuesday.
Ervin noted business is slowly picking up as more people become aware still offering limited services, saying, "Everyone is kind of catching on and getting used to the new normal.”
Ervin said she wanted to assure the public that Manny's staff are taking all precautions to provide a safe food service experience.
"It's just uncertain times," she said.
Savanna Mayor Chris Lain, who also owns the downtown Circa 1888 restaurant, said while closing for dine-in customers is difficult, it was a decision he could understand as both a business owner and a mayor.
"The virus is spreading very rapidly and steps need to be made to slow it,” Lain said. “The governor first asked people to cancel events of 250 people or more and limit interaction. However, when his requests or suggestions were not followed he had to make the tough decision to do it by executive order.”
Added Lain, “And at this point, we are seeing the same precautions being taken in states around us. I am fully aware of the financial impact this is having on business owners, employees and the city."
Circa 1888 will be offering carry-out service from 4-8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. In a social media post last week, Lain said the restaurant will not be open for lunch "as there are many other businesses who need your lunch business."
"Unfortunately we had to cut back hours for employees and will bring them back as soon as this is over," said Lain. "I hope the public still comes out to support their businesses during this time. We are just going to make the most of a very tough situation."
Mayor Lain added he is participating in conference calls with the governor's office and they are currently working on some state stimulus and relief for small businesses affected by the closure. Businesses can fill out an economic disaster declaration at https://form.jotform.com/200717156003039.
"During these tough times, we need to pull together, help our neighbors and think of how our actions can affect others. In the end, we will get through this and come out as a stronger community," Lain said.
While some eateries may have closed down completely for the next couple of weeks, many local restaurants are still offering some options. Members of the public are encouraged to call their favorite restaurant or visit their Facebook page or website to see what services they might be offering during the closure.
Gov. Pritzker's office has directed the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) to defer sales tax payments for more than 24,000 small and medium-sized bars and restaurants, accounting for nearly 80 percent of all such entities statewide. 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.
"Penalties and interest will be automatically waived; however, qualified taxpayers must still file their sales tax return even if they are unable to make a payment," said Pritzker. "Any taxpayers taking advantage of this relief will be required to pay their sales tax liabilities due in March, April and May in four installments starting on May 20 and extending through August 20."
More information on this can be found by viewing the IDOR's informational bulletin available at tax.illinois.gov.
Pritzker also announced the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved the state's eligibility for disaster assistance loans for small businesses facing financial hardship due to COVID-19. Eligible businesses can apply for as much as $2 million in low-interest loans at htpps://disasterloan.sba.gov.
Carroll County schools also are providing meals for students within their respective districts. Since the mandated school closures, the West Carroll School District has been providing free breakfast and lunch to students for pick-up at the WCPS and at the district office. Breakfast pick-up is from 8-9 a.m. and lunch is available from noon-1 p.m.
According to a Facebook post from West Carroll late last week, beginning Monday, March 23, the school district would begin delivering meals to the homes of students unable to find transportation to the "Grab and Go" site
Anyone needing delivery service was asked to email a request, including the number of breakfast and lunch meals needed, to Director of Food Service, Shelly Falls at firstname.lastname@example.org. Food will be delivered by the transportation department (on school buses) between 8 a.m. and noon each day this week, with drivers honking once they are at the house for someone from the house to come out to pick-up the food.
Both Eastland and Chadwick-Milledgeville schools provided options for school meals last week, but are not this week due to spring break.