Warm weather provides a lifeline for restaurants coping with a loss of indoor dining

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BELLEVILLE, Ill. – Thieves have now joined the coronavirus pandemic in putting area businesses on the brink of closing. Now, an unexpected lifeline is restoring hope. That lifeline is the weather.

A new round of COVID-19 shutdowns from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has restaurants across the state closed to indoor dining again.

At least one restaurant in Downtown Belleville, Margaritas, has had its outdoor heaters stolen. Replacements had been hard to find with such great demand for them, a worker said.

Surrounding restaurant owners are now keeping their heaters locked up inside their buildings when not in use. Yet, here it is, November 4, and the area is expecting a solid week of sunshine and 70 degree weather.

The City of Belleville has now extended street closures for outdoor dining through Jan. 5.

Bennie Parr, the owner of Bennie’s Pizza Pub, said that plus a week of good weather could be the difference between shutting down and staying open for at least another month.

“We need this,” he said. “We need the good weather because what we had the past weeks (cold and rain) was just a small taste of what we’re going to see in the future. So, seeing this weather coming up and what we have now is going to be heaven sent for sure.”

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert urged businesses to comply with the shutdowns but said the city would not be sending out enforcement patrols.

“It just hurts me to see (businesses) hurt so bad in this last year,” the mayor said. “The last thing I want to do with these businesses already struggling is give them a fine or kick them again. (But) I don’t want you to break the rules that are out there because your health’s at stake and your lives are at stake. It’s real.”

He pointed out that the indoor dining ban could be lifted if COVID-19 positivity rates were 6.5 percent or below for three days in a row.

They’ve ranged from 8.8 percent to 14.2 percent so far this week in St. Clair County.

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