'Taking steps toward normalcy': Crystal Lake businesses, community happy to reach Phase 3 of Restore Illinois

Cars park in front of local businesses in downtown Crystal Lake.
Cars park in front of local businesses in downtown Crystal Lake.

People were out and about – in social distance fashion, of course – in downtown Crystal Lake, visiting a variety of local stores and restaurants as some business restrictions, put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, were lifted Friday.

Signs in front of small businesses reading “We missed you!” in colorful letters welcomed people. Plenty of cars were parked in front of area stores, and people walked about, window shopped or waited outside barbershops for their hair appointments.

Since mid-March, many stores and restaurants had been closed except for curbside or carry-out service. But on Friday, the state moved into Phase 3 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, allowing restaurants to serve people outside and some retail businesses that had been closed to reopen.

Craving a little bit of normal, Chrissy DiGiovanni, of Cary, went to downtown Crystal Lake with a friend Friday, where they ate outside at Benedict’s La Strata, 40 N. Williams St.

“As long as people were being safe, we felt comfortable enough to go out in the wild again,” she said.

The plan was to leave if it got too crazy, DiGiovanni said, but everybody she saw maintained a safe distance, and most wore masks, so she and her friend felt OK being out.

Eating at Benedict’s was a little strange, DiGiovanni admitted, as the last time she sat at a restuarant was in early March.

Things have changed a lot for DiGiovanni in the past couple of months. She now is, similar to many others, working from home.

“I’m in outside sales, so it’s not a normal environment for me,” DiGiovanni said. “It’s been challenging. But you know, we just try to maintain positivity, get a lot of exercise.”

Days like Friday, however, made things feel a little less weird for her.

“If you just pretended [that] it’s just such a nice day that everybody wanted to eat outside, it seemed like it was plausible,” DiGiovanni said.

When customers first walk into The Running Depot, 30 N. Williams St., they are greeted by a bottle of hand sanitizer that they are asked to use. Other safety measures the running and walking store has put in place, such as wearing face masks, allowing only five customers in at a time and maintaining social distancing, are posted on the windows. Many stores in downtown Crystal Lake also had similar signs posted.

Running Depot owner Pam Andrews said, early Friday afternoon, that business had been steady since they opened.

“It’s nice to see everybody again,” she said.

Andrews said she and her staff had been learning about what is required to prepare for the store’s reopening.

“Today was encouraging, to see people are willing to come out,” Andrews said. “We’re trying to make them feel safe by following all the requirements so they feel good about coming out here.”

Crystal Lake resident Fred Fortman, a volunteer at The Green Read, a used bookstore owned and operated by The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County at 61 N. Williams St., said the store was busy in the morning, although things had quieted in the afternoon.

“I was very surprised with the number of people out and about on the street on Williams,” Fortman said. “I think people have a lot of ... pent up energy in them.”

Fortman said while the store was closed, customers still were able to request books, and volunteers would bring it out to them, with no contact.

However, that had been rather “hit or miss,” Fortman added.

Fortman said he is very sympathetic to the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic caused, although the down time allowed him to spend some more time with his kids, who had previously been away at school. Still, he was happy to be back Friday.

A few customers who came into The Green Read told Fortman they were just happy to get out of the house and be able to come in to the store and look at all the books.

Like at other stores, social distancing and masks are required at The Green Read, and before the store opened, the manager cleaned everything “scrupulously,” Fortman said.

He said everyone has been very cooperative when it comes to wearing masks.

“It’s good to seee that things are taking steps towards normalcy, and people’s spirits seem very positive,” Fortman said. “Everybody seems friendly and upbeat.”

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