Chicago heads to local essential business BottlesUp! for a safe and friendly wine fix

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

Ella Raymont’s first wine pickup of the pandemic involved leaving an envelope containing $100 in cash on a table in exchange for a box of thoroughly sanitized wines and beers.

Raymont, a part-time wine sommelier at local wine store BottlesUp! in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, had texted BottlesUp! owner Melissa Zeman earlier that day asking for a contactless wine order. It was March, the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun, and Raymont was unsure if it was safe to go into the store.

Now, these contactless pickups and wine orders are an everyday occurrence at BottlesUp! as Zeman and her customers adapt to the new realities of the pandemic.

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Stimulus recipients consider spending or saving their checks

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

As stimulus checks hit bank accounts around the country, some financially secure recipients want to use their portion to support struggling local businesses, but financial advisors are urging caution.

Congress’s initial $2 trillion economic stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, was passed in late March as the cases of COVID-19 reached nearly 200,000 in the United States and fears over the health of the economy grew. Under the stimulus, those who made less than $75,000 in their most recent tax year qualified for a one-time $1,200 stipend.

Makai-Lynn Randall, a 23-year-old operations manager in Bozeman, Montana, and her husband received a combined $2,400 stimulus check on May 12. In 2019, the couple reported a household income of around $55,000, and they are both still employed. Though neither have a financial advisor, they adhere to a strict budget, and without any pressing bills to pay, Randall said they’d like to use some of the money to support local restaurants in Bozeman.

“We don’t get to eat out a lot,” Randall said. “We’re going to take this money and have a couple at-home date nights and just try to put it back into the community as much as we can. I know how much just going in and filling my growler can help (struggling businesses).”

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The cost of not shopping around

By Kari Mcmahon
Medill Reports

Alyce Barry, a 68-year-old retiree from Evanston, stopped going to the grocery store in early March. As the coronavirus outbreak started to take hold in the U.S., she looked for alternate options.

At first, Barry tried online grocery delivery but faced long wait times. Since her 73-year-old husband has chronic asthma and is in the high-risk category for the coronavirus, she reached out to her local mutual aid group, which enables people in communities to request or provide help during the crisis, whether it’s running errands or providing masks. In April, through the mutual aid group, Barry found a personal shopper to deliver groceries.

Illinois’ stay-at-home order was implemented March 20 to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. Under the order, residents must stay home with exceptions for essential activities, which include grocery shopping. Some residents have chosen to shop differently than they would prior to the order, so they can social distance and prioritize their health.

“[My approach to shopping amid the coronavirus] has changed more than I ever realized at first,” Barry said. “What I’m realizing is that going grocery shopping has been a coping strategy for years, and I hadn’t really realized until I suddenly couldn’t go anymore.”

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Travelers struggle to get refunds after canceling flights amid coronavirus pandemic

By Henry Ren
Medill Reports

Genie Schwartz canceled her late April flight from West Haven, Connecticut, to Wilmington, North Carolina, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Connecticut residents to eliminate non-essential travels in late March. She then called American Airlines to refund her $400 airfare, only to be offered a travel voucher valid until December 2021.

“I don’t know when it will be safe to travel again,” Schwartz said. “I would really like my money back.”

The 73-year-old had also scheduled a trip to London in mid-May through a local travel agent. The agent had canceled all of Schwartz’s trip reservations and the travel insurance, except for the flights with Delta because the agent was waiting for Delta to cancel the flight.

“If Delta doesn’t cancel, again, I’m stuck,” Schwartz said.

Like Schwartz, thousands of travelers are unable to get cash refunds from major U.S. airlines after proactively canceling their flights amid the coronavirus pandemic. For compensation, they are offered a full travel credit usable in one to two years, depending on the airline.

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How COVID-19 is changing how restaurants do business

By Joshua Skinner
Medill Reports

With Texas’ stay at home order expiring on May 1, restaurants are slowly moving from curbside pick-up to allowing a limited number of diners.

New regulations laid out by Gov. Greg Abbott allow restaurants to operate at 25% capacity, even with new cases of COVID-19 popping up across the state. What does that mean in terms of how restaurants staff, plan, and operate?

Medill Reports was given inside access to follow the management of REM Restaurant Group as they went through an exhaustive list of safety checks for five North Texas restaurants.

Photo above: A staff member waits to deliver a curbside order at Rio Mambo in Fort Worth, TX. (Joshua Skinner/MEDILL)

Real estate market still moving despite COVID-19

By Evan Brooks
Medill Reports

With COVID-19 continuing to sweep the nation, the real estate market is expected to take a bit hit. Realtors are trying to change their strategy during this difficult time.

Photo at top: Realtor Jarriel Jordan holds a sold sign. (Courtesy of Wyevetra Jordan/Exit Landmark Realty)

With Old Lyme beach closures, businesses turn to takeout

By Dave Peck
Medill Reports

For some Old Lyme, Connecticut restaurants, summertime earnings make up 90% of their yearly revenue. With the town’s decision to indefinitely close public beaches, that number may shrink as fewer people visit the shoreline. For two local restaurants, COVID-19 measures have been met with optimism.

Photo at top: A beach closure sign blocks off Sound View Beach in Old Lyme. (Dave Peck/MEDILL)

Coffee shop does the unthinkable during stay-at-home order

By Jenny Ly
Medill Reports

The COVID-19 era has called for a new shift in the way Americans conduct business and socialize. Executive orders sweeping the nation on both federal, state and local levels hindered local businesses, forcing limited services or closures of many businesses and thrusting the local economy in a deep downward direction. An additional 3.84 million Americans across the country filed for unemployment this week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, bringing the six-week running total to a startling 30.3 million unemployment claims.

Despite the bleak economic conditions, that didn’t stop one Colorado coffee shop from opening its doors during the pandemic. After being open for just under two weeks, Ziggi’s Coffee has seen record sales numbers and a growing customer base like it has never seen before. “You typically spend lots of money on grand opening day, like $10,000,” said Brandon Knudsen, owner of Ziggi’s Coffee. “It wasn’t necessary. We could take that money and put it in staff and employees and expedite the opening because you have a very captive audience these days and there isn’t that competition.”

The Colorado governor’s office continues to issue guidance phasing in the re-opening of the state’s economy. Castle Pines, the city located in Douglas County, local officials mandate that retail and personal services can reopen May 1 if implementing best practices.

Photo at top: A sign reads “now open” in front of Ziggi’s Coffee as the grand opening debuted on April 27, 2020 in Castle Pines, Colorado, during the pandemic dwindling the U.S. economy. (Courtesy of Ziggi’s Coffee)

Many Texas businesses will remain closed despite expiration of stay-at-home order

By Joshua Skinner
Medill Reports

With Texas’ stay-at-home order set to expire at the end of April, many businesses are preparing to operate in a limited fashion. Others have decided to remain closed for financial, liability, or safety reasons.

But on the journey to bring the state economy back to life, not all businesses are treated equally.

Photo at top: The front entrance of Youth and Lashes in Hurst, Texas. (Ian Katz/MEDILL)

Foot traffic drops about 80% in the Loop amid COVID-19

By Michael Thomas
Medill Reports

Chicago’s busy Loop looks like a ghost town amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Chicago Loop Alliance, an organization that helps maintain the loop, foot traffic has dropped about 80% compared to this time last year. The group’s CEO Michael Edwards says, “People are going to expect downtown to be clean safe and healthy and we’ll do everything we can.”

Depending on the latest number of positive cases, the state’s stay-at-home order could be extended. On Wednesday, April 22nd Gov. Pritzker said, “We’re looking at an extension, but I don’t know.” For now, Chicago Loop businesses will remain closed.

Photo at top: A nearly empty Chicago Loop (Michael Thomas/MEDILL)