Andersonville Businesses Struggle, Succeed Through COVID-19

By Matt Balazia and Brooklynn Johnson |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Friday, May 7, 2021

COVID-19 has affected all aspects of daily life ranging from personal goals, to career paths, to business profits. 

Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, known for its thriving culture and local businesses, was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and has struggled to persevere.

With a focus on local businesses that help create Andersonville’s unique ambiance, COVID-19 has threatened the nature of these local businesses through profit loss and precautions. Andersonville’s main shopping strip is located on Clark Street, and is filled with a plethora of boutiques, restaurants, bars, bakeries, and local retailers.

More specifically, popular brunch spots, Italian restaurants, and vintage dress shops make a prominent appearance along Andersonville’s shopping strip.

Just around the corner lies modern and statuesque apartment buildings to historic and rustic townhomes. In addition, a hazy view of downtown Chicago can be seen in the distance.

Choose Chicago describes Andersonville as, “a thriving example of a charming urban neighborhood. When it comes to shopping, you’ll find Chicago’s “shop local capital,” with an array of independently owned storefronts — and a conspicuous lack of anything that remotely resembles a chain store.”

In addition to its wide array of retail businesses, Andersonville is home to the Gus Giordano Dance Studio, which suffered financially during the pandemic. From a shrinking list of registered students to a major loss of revenue due to the cancellation of performances, it is clear that businesses of all kinds suffered to some degree at the hands of a deadly global pandemic.

Cara Shear, the artistic and executive director of the dance studio, said that the studio closed as soon as Chicago Governor JB Pritzker announced a one month lockdown of the state of Illinois.

As a result, Shear said they only had two days to shift their services online and notify all of their students and staff that the remainder of the dance season would be virtual. She also noted that the studio’s performances that account for the majority of our income were then put in question.

In an effort to make ends meet, Shear describes a virtual production put on by the studio in which parents were noted as “producers”. During this recital, dancers had the opportunity to virtually showcase their skills and not miss out on the opportunity to perform for their family and friends.

While Gus Giordano Dance Studio also saw a 50% decrease in student registrations for their summer program, Shear believes their virtual classes were their saving grace.

Both federal and local governments provide several ways to access financial support, with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) among the most prominent.

The United States Department of The Treasury describes the CARES Act as a service to provide fast and direct economic assistance to American workers, small businesses, industries, and more. For small businesses, the CARES Act supplies financial support by providing Small Business Tax Credit Programs, Emergency Capital Investment Programs and the Paycheck Protection Program. 

However, several businesses in the Andersonville area have mentioned applying for financial aid through the CARES Act, but never receiving any. 

Pete Barker, owner of Rattleback Records in Andersonville, said that the record store truly suffered financially during the early months of the pandemic even though vinyl record sales have been on the rise in the past years, and virtually peaked in March of last year.

“It was rough, we had to shift several of our services online to make ends meet. And we applied for federal funding but never received any.” he said.

Barker also said that the record store began offering their services online utilizing their website and curbside delivery. However, he explained that in doing so, this only provided temporary support.

The fight for liveable minimum wage was certainly not aided by a global pandemic. And as a result, small businesses that were already struggling to make ends meet would also struggle to support their hard-working employees.

James Bateman, who both manages and owns the restaurant Gadabout, described the struggle of being a local business that believes in social justice and equality in troubling times, “We believe in a sense of community and we believe in social justice. We believe in employee rights, our pay structure is vastly different from any place I've ever worked before where we tell our entire staff everybody makes minimum wage in terms of like $14 an hour or more...when we were opening up back in late 2019, the world felt very divided, and we wanted to create this brand new kind of atmosphere and and cuisine experience and everything that kind of melded different cultures, different techniques different flavors together, to kind of encourage inclusive it, and embracing other cultures.”

Gadabout is focused on providing an experience of non-traditional street food and cocktails through face to face interaction. Shortly after opening in 2019, Bateman and Gadabout management were faced with difficult decisions to determine the fate of their business.

“We believe in a sense of community, we believe in social justice, we believe in employee rights and our pay structure is vastly different from any place I've ever worked before where we tell our entire staff everybody makes minimum wage in terms of like $14 an hour or more,” he said.

With a background in hospitality, Bateman said he and his wife, Rinska Carrasco, go above and beyond to make Gatabout more than just a restaurant, but to stand for the beliefs that support their guests and employees, but this does not come without a fight. 

With support from the CARES Act with the Paycheck Protection Program, employees who were laid off could receive more financial aid from unemployment, rather than the CARES Act, and even with the use of this loan, Gadabout will ultimately end up owing more due to their inability to use 60% of the loan for payroll.

The pandemic also caused issues for Gadabout. 

“We closed down for a little while and then we opened it back up for just take out,” Bateman said. “We did the eight weeks of what we call our passport challenge, every single week during those eight weeks, we went to a different country and we brought a lot of those flavors on to our takeout menu ... it provided a lot of motivation for the entire staff to kind of really start thinking about things a little bit differently.”

Bateman also mentioned a frequent customer who brought back his high-risk grandmother to the restaurant due to the high level of COVID-19 precautions and feeling it was a safe space, “We had one guest last year that came in and about a week later he came back in with his ninety year old grandmother. He was saying that we were the only restaurant in Chicago that he felt he could trust to bring his 90-year-old grandmother.”

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