WHEATON, Ill. (CBS) — We were still waiting Wednesday night on the results of Chicago’s Winter Design contest, which is meant to encourage creative solutions to outdoor dining in the city.

More on that should be unveiled in the coming days. Meanwhile, CBS 2’s Tara Molina headed to west suburban Wheaton – which is already making outdoor dining work, and at no cost to local businesses.

Dining tents have been a lifesaver for restaurants on Hale Street in Wheaton. And while the City of Wheaton set it all up and fronted the cost, we found they are working eventually to get it all covered through COVID-19 relief funds.

“It was a tremendous help,” Tom Bozonelos said of the tents. “It felt a lot safer than being inside.”

Bozonelos owns a corner restaurant, Egg’Lectic Café. He said the tents were a lifeline.

“We were down about 70 percent,” he said.

Bozonelos’ restaurant has been a staple in Wheaton for more than 20 years. He said after the tents went up in June, his numbers went close to where they were pre-pandemic.

“It saved our business,” he said. “Bottom line is it saved our business.”

Bozonelos said business owners were worried headed into colder months, until learning about the city’s new plan to keep the tents up.

 

“The tents have been such a big draw for everybody,” said Tonya Parravano of the Downtown Wheaton Association.

The association will install temporary heating systems soon.

“We will be adding heat to the tents by ductwork,” Parravano said, “We can’t put propane tanks under the tents.”

And this will all be no cost to local business owners.

“Our hope is to keep it open until the end of the year,” Parravano said.

Wheaton will be paying the tab, for now. The city manager said the tents will run up a $67,000 bill by the end of December and the heating will cost $45,000.

The City of Wheaton plans to submit that $112,000 the feds for reimbursement through the CARES Act.

Could that work in Chicago, where bars and restaurants are struggling and owners tell us they can’t afford to shell out thousands for heating and elaborate outdoor set-ups?

Molina asked City of Chicago representatives if they’ve explored ideas like what’s being undertaken in Wheaton, and whether they’ve considered applying federal funds.

A representative of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection did not answer that question, but did say, “We don’t have an update at this point, but we continue to explore all options to support bars, restaurants and other businesses into the fall and winter months.”

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

Tara Molina