BELOIT — It was a good day for Andrea Stevenson and Julie Ennett of Rockton. It was their first outing to a restaurant in a month, and they chose The Rock Bar and Grill, 101 Maple Ave. So did four other diners from Illinois who asked to remain anonymous.
“I picked up a friend and headed right here,” Stevenson said of her outing.
After lunch, Stevenson was going to mow the lawn and go to Rockton Walmart where her daughter, a Hononegah graduate, would be wearing a cap and gown in an afternoon event for student employees. By nightfall, she would go to Jersey’s Bar & Grill, 2770 Milwaukee Road to celebrate.
Although restaurants in Illinois are still closed for dining inside, Beloit’s dining rooms opened on Thursday as businesses across the city were in various stages of reopening.
Jim Agate, co-owner of The Rock, said he had brought back all employees Thursday for inside dining. The restaurant only offered curbside pickup since the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up. Although he and co-owner Bill Lock have opened restaurants together over the years, Agate said this reopening was a new challenge. Not only were staff in masks and gloves, but tables were distanced and surfaces had to go through a two-part disinfection process in between diners.
Because the county’s recommendation is 25% occupancy, and the city is requiring 6 feet between employees and customers, restaurants like the Rock could only have 30 customers at one time inside. The plan for The Rock is to accommodate more diners outside.
Agate said there were eight customers in the first hour-and-a-half on Thursday, with people being cautious.
“It’s not a crazy bar scene,” Agate said. “This is going to be a gradual process.”
Matt Grajevci, owner of West Side Family Restaurant, 530 W Grand Ave., said he first heard the news the restaurant could reopen for dining on Wednesday.
“We need at least a few days. We have to clean everything, bring in the food from the company, and prepare it. We can not just open. The place is not ready. For the restaurants, they need at least one week,” he said.
Grajevci had to shut down his restaurant as the carry-out business was not enough to pay his bills. With regulations limiting capacity to 25%, he said it will be difficult to keep the business going.
Nikkie Chadwick, owner of Walnut Creek Apparel & Gifts, 406 E. Grand Ave., said she had first opened the showroom last week for up to five customers. One of the business’s biggest sellers has been Cubs and Bears face masks, purchased from Illinois customers.
“Seventy-five to 80% of customers have been from Illinois,” she said. “One couple came from Chicago.”
Chadwick said her business continued during the shutdown as it provided employee badges for the health system and police department, apparel for workers at two food manufacturers and death tags for a funeral home. The business also offered curbside pickup.
Despite remaining open, 80% of business dropped. There will be permanent losses as many events the business makes awards for were cancelled this year.
To help boost business, Chadwick had been selling “We Are All In This Together” T-shirts. She said the community stepped up, purchasing almost 1,000 of them.
“Beloit takes care of its own,” she said.
Chadwick said many customers will continue with curbside pickup to stay safe. It has taken some adjustment as customers call for a shirt or cutting board and Chadwick must send them pictures of the store’s offerings. However, Chadwick said customers really appreciate the effort and are doing their best to support the business
At House of Lexx Tattoo & Piercings, 524 E. Grand Ave., owner Lexx Valadez said he will reopen Tuesday at noon.
“We have appointments set, and we are going to be pretty busy for a while,” Valadez said.
Valadez said stations are more than 6 feet apart, tattoo artists will be masked and gloved and the business will be continuously disinfected. Although he is glad to be re-opening, he said he believes the business could have kept open.
“We could have safely worked the whole time and not lost the income,” Valadez said.
Tom Morgan, owner of CheezHead Brewing, 414 and 416 Pleasant St., Beloit, said his business is offering smoked brats and picnic food on Friday. He was planning on setting up tables six feet apart outside and offering a bags game.