By Tara Molina

CHICAGO (CBS) — Business is bouncing back, with some optimistic updates from the city after a rough 18 months, especially for the bars and restaurants forced to close then try to stay open through months of COVID-19 restrictions.

Looking at the latest data from the city’s business office, the newly reopened Guthrie’s Tavern in Lakeview is one of many establishments now back in business this week.

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The corner of Addison and Lakewood, in the Lakeview neighborhood, has lived and breathed the motto–“where neighbors become friends”–for more than 30 years.

The three guys sitting at the bar inside Guthrie’s Tavern–Brett, Matt and Mark–didn’t want Chicago to lose this institution of a watering hole.

“There’s a handful of iconic bars,” said Matthew Baldino. “Guthrie’s being one of them. Watching the pandemic take it down, I think genuinely scared people.”

The trio committed to reopening it as same bar with the same vision.

“For a lot of people, this bar was kinda home. A home base,” said Brett Keeshin. “To be able to bring something back and sort of bring joy in a crazy time? You can see it on peoples faces when they come in here.”

But after an extraordinarily difficult couple of years, Guthrie’s isn’t the only business on Chicago’s comeback train.

The city doesn’t keep track of closures, but business license renewals tell its story.

According to the city’s business office, between March 15, 2020-June 15, 2021, 81% of business licenses were renewed in the city. Through the heights of the pandemic, Chicago only saw about a 1.5% drop from it’s pre-COVID average.

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New business licenses are on the up and up. There were a little more than 4,000 in this same timeframe in 2020 but more than 5,000 this year.

Meanwhile, the owners behind Guthrie’s grand reopening this week focused not only on getting back in business, but keeping neighborhood and city traditions going through it all.

Looking specifically at bars and restaurants, we heard pretty big national numbers for expected for closures due to COVID. However, there is no number on that from the city, state or restaurant association.

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The Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) issued 5,453 new licenses from January through December 2019 and 3,360 new licenses from January through December 2020, according to a statement sent to CBS 2.

On average, 81% of licenses renew each year. In 2020, BACP saw the largest percentage increases in new licenses issued for Pop-Up Retailer User, Special Event Food, and Shared Kitchen User licenses, which amounted to approximately 25-30 new licenses for each.

Between March 15, 2020-June 15, 2021, 81% of business licenses were renewed. This is only a 1.5% drop from pre-COVID averages.

New licenses issued:
2018 (01/01-10/01): 6,659
2019 (01/01-10/01): 6,435
2020 (01/01-10/01): 4,084
2021 (01/01-10/01): 5,149

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Renewal rates:
2018: 82.2%
2019: 83.1%
2020: 82.4%
2021 (through end of July): 81.1%

Tara Molina