COVID-19: A Year of Impact on the City and Businesses

On March 17, 2020, an executive order signed by Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19 went into effect. Four days later, a statewide stay-at-home order began.

The impacts to our local health systems were great, but the city and business community also took some major blows.

“It has been brutal, there’s no sugar-coating that,” said Downtown Naperville Alliance Executive Director Katie Wood. “It was shocking, it was sudden, it was obviously unplanned for, unchartered. So it was a very significant, tough year.”

Many businesses were forced to temporarily close, furlough employees, and accept that revenues would be significantly lower in 2020.

Community Response

But almost immediately, the community sprang into action. Residents bought gift cards from retailers to give an influx of cash at a tough time. And initiatives like Naperville Helps! and the #DineInNaperville challenge allowed people to support local restaurants.

“That was something that we launched early in the pandemic and it was really a win-win-win,” said Wood. “I don’t know the exact count but thousands of meals were prepared by our local restaurants and delivered to healthcare workers at Edward.”

Some Businesses Closed

For some businesses, that wasn’t enough. Several closed down permanently due to COVID-19, like Midici Pizzeria and Vom Fass.

“I think we did get hit but I think we were hurt in terms of vacancies less so than in other communities because of the strength of Naperville overall and I sense a very strong rebound,” said Wood.

City of Naperville COVID-19 Impacts

From a municipal perspective, the city quickly had to figure out what residents needed at a time when so little was known about the virus.

“The staff really had to come together and figure out how we were going to sort of pivot and reinvent ourselves in terms of city government so that we could continue to not only provide the services, but keep our employees and our residents safe while doing it,” said Chirico.

Chirico said the fact that there was never more than one COVID-19 case within a city department is a testament to how seriously city employees took the situation.

Government actions like waiving late fees and canceling disconnections for unpaid utility bills, extending parking ticket payment windows, and pushing out deadlines for commercial license fees provided some relief to residents and business owners.

With the benefit of hindsight, there were some things Chirico said he now wishes went differently, like deferring Downtown Streetscape Improvements.

“If we would have just pulled the trigger on that we’d have been done by now and we’d be going into the spring with a brand new streetscape, very exciting and we wouldn’t have to worry about any disruptions going forward,” he said.

What Could Stay

As more people get vaccinated against the virus, the end of the pandemic draws nearer. But some policies adopted over the past year to deal with COVID-19 could stick around.

Expanded participation at public meetings, extra emergency preparedness, and outdoor street dining are all things that could continue in Naperville.

“I do see street outdoor dining continuing at least through the summer, let’s hope it goes forward. A lot of people really, really liked that,” said Wood.

Recovering From The COVID-19 Pandemic

As for when Naperville will bounce back from the economic impacts of the pandemic, Chirico said the city is already well on its way.

“I think it’s just remarkable, actually remarkable how well Naperville, the business community survived the pandemic,” said Chirico. “I mean if you look at the businesses that have gone, they’re already mostly backfilled with new businesses. In a pandemic economy, it’s really astounding.”

Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.

 

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