Indoor dining a good appetizer for Jo Daviess County bars, restaurants

GALENA, Ill. — It was the best news Warren Bell had received in some time. As of Monday, indoor dining was back in Jo Daviess County.

For the owner of Galena Brewing Co., it couldn’t have returned soon enough.

“I say hallelujah,” Bell said. “Winter is bad enough as it is, so this feels like getting back to normalcy.”

Jo Daviess County was one of numerous areas in Illinois moved to Tier 1 of Illinois’ COVID-19 mitigation restrictions. Under the new tier, restaurants and bars may resume indoor dining, with a 25% occupancy restriction and mandated social distancing.

The new rules also allow for social events and gatherings, including weddings and funerals, at limited capacity. Fitness centers also can reopen.

In early December, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced restrictions that banned indoor dining for several regions in the state. In the following weeks, many businesses turned to serving customers through curbside services, while some ignored the mandate entirely and continued to provide indoor seating.

Bell said his restaurant set up a drive-through service that allowed customers to park in a garage behind the restaurant to receive their orders. Despite those recent innovations, he much prefers being able to serve customers indoors again.

“It should give a boost to Galena and get people to come again,” Bell said. “It just allows us to reach more customers this way.”

David Schmit, program coordinator for NW Illinois Economic Development, said the addition of indoor dining will act as an essential life raft for businesses.

“So many of these businesses have done their very best to keep people interested,” Schmit said. “Some of these restaurants were on their last leg, and now they can have some confidence again.”

Mike Meyer, the owner of The Other Side in East Dubuque, said the transition into Tier 1 will allow downtown East Dubuque businesses to utilize their video gaming machines again, creating another source of much-needed revenue.

“Gambling is huge for us,” Meyer said. “The fact that we can have gambling and have people dine in makes it feel kind of like a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Even restaurants that have ignored the state mandates feel they will still benefit from the eased restrictions.

Jackie Jacobs, owner of Cajun Jack’s in Elizabeth, said that even though her business has remained open, she feels that the state’s announcement will give more residents the confidence to go out to eat again.

“It will make people more comfortable, so they can come to a restaurant with social distancing,” Jacobs said. “It will help a lot of small businesses.”

In general, Schmit said most businesses in Jo Daviess County will benefit from the new rules. The re-emergence of indoor dining will mean Jo Daviess County once again has one of its main attractions, which in turn should help usher in the return of tourists.

“Tourism is so big in this county,” Schmit said. “A lot of the businesses here exist because of tourism, and they are going to benefit from restaurants re-opening, too.”