Jo Daviess County restaurants, bars react to recent indoor dining ban

EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — Businesses in Jo Daviess County are once again facing difficulties after a state government mandate has required them to close indoor dining.

However, this time, some establishments are openly defying the mandate and choosing to remain open.

On Saturday, the Illinois Department of Public Health mandated that restaurants and bars in Jo Daviess County, along with eight other counties, cease offering indoor dining or bar services, citing an increase in the region’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate of 8% or higher for three consecutive days.

The restriction will only be lifted when the region’s positivity rate declines back to 6.5% or under.

Similar restrictions have recently been implemented in Wisconsin as well. On Tuesday, Wis. Gov. Tony Evers announced the state would institute a mandate limiting public gatherings to fill no more than 25% of a room or building’s total occupancy. The restriction is scheduled to take effect today and remain until Nov. 6.

For businesses in Jo Daviess County, the mandate was a reminder of similar restrictions implemented in March when COVID-19 first emerged in Illinois. Those restrictions were lifted in late June.

“It’s certainly not a sustainable way of doing business,” said Warren Bell, co-owner of Galena Brewing Company in Galena. “In the summer, things improved and gave us a lot of hope. Now, with the weather getting colder, our opportunity for seating people is closing off.”

When indoor dining was first prohibited by the state in March, several cities in Jo Daviess County passed resolutions for restaurants and bars to allowing outdoor dining and seating options. Galena closed off a portion of Main Street to allow businesses to set up seating areas in the road, a resolution scheduled to expire at the end of October.

East Dubuque’s outdoor seating resolution will end on Oct. 14, and East Dubuque City Manager Loras Herrig said he is unsure if it will be renewed, despite the newly reinstated restrictions on indoor dining.

“The weather is getting colder right now, so there aren’t a lot of people left that even want to eat outside,” Herrig said. “I can’t imagine who would want outdoor dining in November.”

Bell said he has also seen a decline in people partaking in outdoor dining as the weather has continued to cool.

“It’s a decision that is in the hands of the customer,” Bell said. “If it’s too cold for them to sit out there, they won’t do it, and that is more regularly becoming the case.”

However, this time around, Herrig said there are several businesses in East Dubuque that aren’t obeying the state’s mandate, instead choosing to remain open to customers, and, so far, the city has taken the stance of allowing it.

“There really isn’t any state statute that we can enforce, so when we see a business that is still open, we have the police fill out a report and forward it to the proper authorities,” Herrig said. “We do not plan on shutting down any bars or restaurants by our authority.”

Jay Upmann, owner of JJ & Freddie’s in Stockton, said he has been told by county officials that the mandate would not be enforced.

Jo Daviess County Sheriff Kevin Turner did not respond to a message asking for comment on this story.

Even if restaurants were to remain open despite the state mandate, Upmann said he fears the tourists that many Jo Daviess County restaurants rely on won’t come to the area out of the presumption that everything is closed.

“We have such a large tourist base,” Upmann said. “When you put in these kinds of restrictions, it chases people away from even coming out.”

Bell said he is unsure how long the new ban on indoor dining will last, but he does know that his restaurant, and many others in the county, will only be hurt by its implementation.

“I understand what the governor is doing,” Bell said. “However, it does create a large problem for our business. It could reduce our revenue to about 10% of what it normally would be.”