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Crystal Lake City Council approves expanded outdoor seating for five businesses

The Crystal Lake City Council holds its special meeting on Wednesday night.
The Crystal Lake City Council holds its special meeting on Wednesday night.

Five Crystal Lake businesses were given approval for expanded outdoor seating, just in time for the state to move into Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan.

Cafe Olympic at 90 N. Williams St., Mookie’s Steak and Seafood at 446 W. Virginia St., Richard Walker’s Pancake House at 5680 Northwest Highway, The Cottage at 6 E. Crystal Lake Ave., and Duke’s Alehouse and Kitchen at 110 N. Main St. all either asked to be allowed to have outdoor seating or expand outdoor seating they already have.

Cafe Olympic, after the meeting, posted on its Facebook page that it plans to go live Tuesday with a new patio while still offering curbside pick-up and delivery.

“We can’t wait to serve you delicious homemade food ON plates and brunch inspired cocktails/beers again,” it wrote. “We are grateful and ecstatic.”

The Cottage, on its Facebook page, said it would be closed Thursday to prepare for the opening of its outdoor dining areas at 11 a.m. Friday.

Bars and restaurants across the state have been closed for dine-in service since March 16 because of COVID-19.

Under Phase 3 of the state’s Restore Illinois plan, which includes five phases to bring the state out of the stay-at-home order, restaurants will be able to serve people outdoors. All four health regions the state is divided into under the plan, including the North Central Region, which includes McHenry County, are expected to move to Phase 3 on Friday.

Crystal Lake businesses with liquor licenses that have approved outdoor seating also will be able to serve alcohol in outdoor areas.

However, if the business is near a residential area, their outdoor service would have to end at 11 p.m, said Michelle Rentzsch, community development director for Crystal Lake.

These outdoor seating expansions would only be allowed during the period of time when social distancing requirements remain in effect, and not later than Oct. 31, according to the meeting’s agenda.

To expedite the process businesses follow to get expanded outdoor seating, the City Council on Wednesday approved an ordinance to allow administrative approval for outdoor seating areas. This ordinance lets businesses’ outdoor seating plans be reviewed and approved by city staff, as opposed to having to go through the City Council.

Also approved Wednesday was the reallocation of $70,000 from the matching grant program to a new Business Transition Grant Program, to help small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Retailer Façade and Commercial Tenant Improvement” and a “Manufacturer Building Improvement and Equipment” matching grant programs have been in place since 2010, to help starting retailers and manufacturers cover their costs for establishing a business in the city, according to the agenda.

Crystal Lake budgeted $80,000 for the grant programs for fiscal 2020-21. Of this, $70,000 is available to create the COVID-19 Business Transition Grant Program to help businesses meet the physical distancing and sanitation standards for reopening.

This could include buying protective enhancements, such as sanitation stations, walk-up windows, face coverings, signs to show which way customers should go to social distance or “distance dots” that are 6 feet apart.

Rentzsch said qualifying businesses that generate walk-in traffic could get a grant of up to $1,000.

“We’ve structured this so it would eliminate the corporate chains and the franchise businesses, [and] limit it to businesses under $4 million in sales tax,” Rentzsch said. “If [there’s] anything that would help with physical distancing or sanitation, the staff would accept that reimbursable expense.”

Rentzsch said businesses can start to apply for the grant Thursday on the city’s website.

Crystal Lake Mayor Haig Haleblian expressed his support of this Business Transition Grant program, saying that these small businesses put their “heart and soul and Monday” into what they do.

“They’ve been hammered, and I’m really pleased that we’re able to do this,” Haleblian said. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

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