With weather turning, Galena council ends outdoor dining, but downtown businesses worried about winter

GALENA, Ill. — As the weather cools and restaurants prepare for winter, Galena officials have chosen to end outdoor dining.

City Council members this week voted unanimously to end outdoor dining on Main Street effective immediately. The move leaves restaurants unable to seat customers given that indoor dining has been prohibited by the governor due to high COVID-19 positivity levels in the region that includes Jo Daviess County.

The outdoor dining was OK’d by council members in May as a way to assist struggling restaurants unable to open their doors to customers due to state restrictions.

Several businesses still were using the option during the unseasonable weather over the weekend.

“A lot of people found great pleasure in being able to sit outside and dine,” said Warren Bell, co-owner of Galena Brewing Co.

However, with temperatures starting to fall, Mayor Terry Renner said the time for outdoor dining has come to an end.

“The weather is turning,” Renner said. “Sooner or later, it is going to snow, and it will be a mess.”

Restaurants downtown now will rely on carryout orders to stay afloat. The city is trying to assist by establishing downtown “takeout zones:” parking spaces specifically designated for picking up food.

City Administrator Mark Moran said signage for those spaces are anticipated to be erected at the end of the week, though he could not specify how many zones will be established.

Last spring, Galena’s downtown restaurants were faced with a similar situation, unable to open their doors and completely reliant on carryout orders. However, many of them also received support from federal stimulus packages. This time, no stimulus money is available.

“It’s going to make it very hard,” Bell said. “If we return to what it was like in April and May, we will be bringing in about 10% of our regular revenue, and that’s just not sustainable.”

He is trying to adapt by converting a garage at the back of his restaurant into a drive-thru area. He previously used the space for storage.

Moran said he has heard from downtown businesses that are similarly fearful of what the winter will bring.

“I think not having any kind of stimulus program in place makes it pretty scary entering the winter for them,” he said.

Following the vote to end outdoor dining, City Council members urged residents to support local businesses.

“It’s going to be a very tough winter for downtown restaurants,” said Council Member Christ Allendorf.

Council members also voted to hold a public input meeting on Dec. 14, during which they will discuss potentially reopening outdoor dining in the spring.