Despite threat of fines, it’s ‘business as usual’ at some Chicago retailers

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO – The city’s business enforcement arm has fielded more than 3,400 complaints about alleged violations of the stay-at-home-order.

Officials say all it took for most businesses to start complying was a call or a visit from a city inspector.

After all, violators can face fines of up to $10,000.

But as WGN Investigates found, despite that threat, at some retailers it’s still business as usual. 

On separate occasions, our cameras caught people entering an Edgewater nail salon and a furrier in Beverly. Under the order, the salon should not have been open. As a non-essential businesses, the furrier should not let people inside.

“We cannot be more clear,” says Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. “People need to stay home. People cannot…this isn’t business as usual.”

Beginning May 1, the restrictions on businesses eased up a little, allowing more retailers to open to fill orders for delivery or curbside pickup.

Barbershops and gyms, for example, must remain closed, and customers are still not allowed to enter non-essential businesses.

In all, the city has ticketed 111 businesses for allegedly violating the stay-at-home order.

Among those cited was Andriana Furs in Beverly on April 25 for allegedly allowing customers inside, city records show.  A store employee declined to comment, and messages for a manager were not returned.

Escareno would not discuss specific citations, but generally speaking says, “Basically, our patience has run out at this point, for those that continue to operate and continue to disobey the order.” 

Retailers we spoke with say they’re equally frustrated, accusing the city of uneven enforcement and ignoring the needs of small businesses.  Adam Kress is owner of River North Cross Fit, one of the businesses cited by the city.  He denies violating the order and said he was not holding classes.

It seems as if “there’s a rule for some people, and a different rule for other people,” he says.

The stakes are especially high. A study released this week found that 100,000 small businesses nationwide will likely shut down from the pandemic. Business owners who were cited will have an administrative hearing. A judge will determine what if any penalty will be assessed.

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