“I’ve never felt so ill prepared to answer such a big question,” says Bruce Finkelman, managing partner of 16″ on Center, which runs Revival Food Hall in the Loop. Finkelman says he’s been focusing on the immediate issues. “It’s heartbreaking the amount of people we had to furlough,” says Finkelman. “I’ve been worried about how we pay rent. Do we have a workforce when this whole thing is over? It’s really hard to look at the bigger picture right now.”
It doesn’t appear that food halls in Chicago will be able to open any time soon. According to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s five-phase reopening plan, restaurants will be able to reopen their dining rooms with 50-person capacity limits in phase four. (Currently, we are in phase two.) But food halls, which depend on attracting large crowds, probably won’t be able to fully reopen until phase five. And as the governor’s plan details, phase five won’t happen until a vaccine or some other effective treatment is widely available. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimates it will take a year or more to develop a vaccine.
Will food halls be able to survive being closed that long? And will customers want to return to crowded spaces? Already, a few food halls in the works have pushed back their opening dates.
London-based Urbanspace, which has U.S. food halls in New York and suburban Washington, D.C., has pushed back its planned opening at 15 W. Washington St. in the Loop, which had been set for April. A larger, 14,000-square-foot food hall is expected to open in the city’s tallest skyscraper, Willis Tower, in August or September, Urbanspace president Eldon Scott says. “It’s really, really tough,” Scott says of the pandemic. “There’s no two ways about it.”
Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall in the old Cook County Hospital building, was expected to open in July or August, but according to Chicago developer John T. Murphy, that will now depend on when restrictions are lifted.