CHICAGO (CBS) — Vacancies and boarded up shops across the city, a reminder of how tough the pandemic has been on local business.

But CBS 2’s Tara Molina learned about a brand new city program that’s making it easier for business owners to move into those spaces. It’s meant to help new owners in a tough time.

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Thousands of Chicago’s restaurants closed in the past year, according to city officials. And that’s why the new program, meant to bring businesses back, is so important.

Chicago’s first all vegan and gluten-free sweets and treats shop just opened its doors on the corner of State and Chestnut about a month before they planned to.

“There’s a lot of fear about how long the city takes to get everything up and going.”

Thanks to a brand new city licensing program meant to help businesses, taking over empty restaurant spaces, like Scoops did, get off the ground faster.

“I get to open up my doors.”

Owner, and lifelong Gold Coast resident, Brittany Gumbiner said, for her, it made all the difference.

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“Bringing in sales and costs and customers. It could have saved me a month. It definitely saved me a couple weeks.”

To be eligible, the previous restaurant had to have passed a Chicago Department of Health inspection on or after July 2018. With no changes to the structure, plumbing, ventilation or electrical systems. City officials said all businesses in the program will still be due for inspections within their first few months of opening, to ensure safety.

So far, only three businesses have taken advantage of the program since it went into effect at the end of July. A brewery in Morgan Park, Open Outcry, is one of them.

According to the city’s business office, they were able finish processing their licensing in less than 24 hours. Brittany’s message to those taking a second look at some of the restaurant spaces, empty right now…

“Any business owner that’s looking to go into business right now, or has passion to bring the community and open their doors, go for it. The city really is being supportive,” Gumbiner said.

Thanks to the city’s Expedited Restaurant Licensing Pilot Program, they were able to open before their liquor license is finalized, that’s not a component of the program. Gumbiner said.

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Scoops is still waiting on their liquor license, something they’re expecting in the next couple weeks. That’s when they’ll be serving boozy milkshakes.

Tara Molina