'I've been tired of sitting at home and having nothing to do'
It wasn't quite the return to everyday life for which so many of us are longing.
But Friday in downtown Ottawa and Streator, things sure looked and felt a whole lot closer to normal.
Restaurants and bars across Illinois reopened for on-site enjoyment after over two months of being restricted due to the state's response to the novel coronavirus. Illinois moved to Phase 3 of its reopening plan Friday, meaning patrons had to remain outside and continue social distancing measures.
Many were more than happy to do so, though, as businesses were busy but by design not crowded during the opening day's lunch hours.
John Craig, his mother, Patty Knoblauch, and his daughters, Julia, Miranda and Sydney, were the first to be seated for lunch at the reopened Lone Buffalo Restaurant and Tap Room.
"I'm just tired of being cooped up. I'm ready," said Craig. "I would've been here sooner if they'd been able to open sooner. It's just time for these businesses to start making some money. ... We'll go out to eat as much as we can."
"We'd go inside if they'd let us go in. We're not afraid," said Knoblauch. "We don't want downtown Ottawa to die because of all of this, so we need to support all the businesses and get them going again. ...
"And I'm tired of cooking."
The Lone Buffalo's sidewalk seating was beginning to fill up by noon, with patrons guided to tables by a hostess stationed outside with menus in her hands and a mask on her face.
"With the state parks opening back up today too, we're expecting traffic later this afternoon. Tomorrow and Sunday we're expecting to be extremely busy," said Lone Buffalo GM Ron Czaplicki, adding that seeing his staff returning to work has been a highlight as well.
"People are so eager with restaurants able to open up on the patio. Hopefully in a few weeks we'll be able to get some kind of inside dining too."
A few blocks away, a half dozen couples were seated under giant tents outside the Court Street Pub, while around the corner at JJ's Pub roughly 25 people were dining and/or drinking at noon, with part of Main Street barricaded off to accommodate the larger-than-normal outdoor crowd.
"It feels great," said JJ's owner Jeremy Johnson. "Finally the governor has given us a little leeway to do something, serve drinks outside and food. We've definitely been waiting for this day ... and we're trying to bring the bar atmosphere from inside to outside.
"I'd like to thank the mayor and the city council. They've done a great job with letting us all set up outside and give everybody an opportunity to try to build our income back up again."
In fact, Ottawa mayor Dan Aussem ate his lunch at JJ's on Friday.
"Everything has gone as well as we can expect," said Aussem, adding that additional Ottawa establishments are still reaching out hoping to add to the city's large list of open outdoor facilities. "I think the weather cooperating was huge as well.
"We know we'll have some bumps in the road ... but it sounds like everyone's been pretty cooperative and grateful that we're opening things up and giving it a whirl. ...
"We did have a couple people complain, but it’s like anything. You can’t please everybody."
Down Route 23, Streator — which pre-pandemic had quite a bit less outdoor restaurant and bar seating than Ottawa — too saw patrons venture out to enjoy outdoor eating and drinking on this picture-perfect Friday afternoon, albeit it to a smaller degree.
City engineer Jeremy Palm said things were going well Friday from what he'd heard as the city is allowing restaurants to open for outdoor seating without a permit for this weekend and will waive permit fees for outdoor seating the rest of 2020, though businesses will still be asked to seek a free permit so the city can verify things are being done in a safe and legal manner.
"Everyone trusts the businesses for this weekend," Palm said. "It's been a long time. We know people are anxious to get out, and our businesses are anxious to reopen."
Jackpots/Dixie's on the northern edge of Streator's downtown had a steady and safe reopening for outdoor drinks and dining, with a baker's dozen of customers seated outside at 1 p.m.
"I am super happy to be back at work," said Jackpots/Dixie's manager Cayla Rebstock. "I've been tired of sitting at home and having nothing to do, and I'm so happy to see all of our wonderful customers.
"It's been great so far. We had people coming in as soon as we opened (at 11 a.m.), and everyone's been following the rules."
Streatorites could also be seen dining, drinking and smiling with friends and family outside places such as Dig Doug's, the Eagles Club, Al's Place and More on Main, with the Eastwood opening late Friday afternoon for under-the-tent dining and patio drinking.
The 318 on Main St. set out four tables with QR scanner codes affixed. Scanning the image with a smartphone takes customers to the menu digitally ... and, in the spirit of social distancing, 100% contact free.
"We want to do whatever we possibly can for the customers," said Cindi Cameron, co-owner of The 318 with her husband, Joe. "We had two or three tables today, but we weren't completely set up (for lunch). We're hoping it takes off. ...
"This has been kind of a game-changer."