By Lauren Victory

CHICAGO (CBS) — One Illinois businsess owner described his company’s COVID-19 pandemic journey as making “it to the cliff, but there is no bridge.”

Illinois is finally fully open but not in time to prevent some businesses from closing.

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Morning Insider Lauren Victory visits a suburban tent company for the third and final time.

After a big show at the Lake County fairgrounds, Braun Events had a typical clean-up with a twist.

“This is our very last job,” said Bobby Braun, owner and president of the event equipment rental company. He made the painful decision in the last few days to officially close his doors.

That comes as a bit of a surprise.

CBS 2 first met the Roselle business owner a year into the pandemic. The company, with the help of a PPP loan, endured 12 months with big events banned. By that point in March, tent rentals were slowly materializing (typically restaurants trying outdoor dining). Braun was optimistic about future jobs.

“2021 has promise,” Braun said in March.

It certainly did. COVID-19 restrictions lifted, and Illinois slowly opened up. CBS 2 visited again in May as work came in but workers did not. 

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“No matter how many ads we run, signs we put up, people are just not applying,” Braun told us in May, shortly after sending a heads-up email to customers. “If I can’t do your event, it’s not because I don’t want to. It’s because we physically can’t.”

Outsiders might suggest paying a higher wage to get more staff but Braun says he’s stuck in a vicious cycle.

“We can’t get enough labor to satisfy doing enough jobs to bring in enough income to cover the expenses,” Braun said in our interview this week.

He’s not the only one struggling. Data from Harvard University shows more than 40% of Illinois small businesses were closed as of June 2, which is higher than the national average. Some shutdowns are temporary, others permanent.

I don’t know if it’s actually hit me yet to be honest,” said Braun of his business’s closure. It wraps up a 49-year career for him.

His next step? Unknown.

Braun said he’s already helped most of his employees get jobs with his competitors.

 

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Lauren Victory