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Some Bars Say City Is Keeping Them Waiting In Issuing Permits To Serve Outside

CHICAGO (CBS) — With the list of Chicago bars and restaurants permanently closing growing, a few that are still open are also hanging by a thread.

The reason is how long it’s taking the city to process their permit to serve customers outside.

On Wednesday, CBS 2’s Tara Molina asked city officials what is taking so long, why more isn’t being done to help local businesses struggling.

Beermiscuous, at 2812 N. Lincoln Ave. near the six-way intersection with Racine Avenue and Diversey Parkway in Lakeview, has plenty of space inside for social distancing. But they don’t have a kitchen, so they can’t use it.

And when it comes to outdoor space so they can serve customers again, the city has left them waiting and waiting. The bar’s owners applied for the permit to put them here more than six weeks ago.

“We feel like we are being punished,” said Beermiscuous co-owner Austin Harvey.

At this point in mid-September, there are only so many outdoor drinking weeks left – making the empty sidewalk on Lincoln Avenue just that much tougher to stomach.

“From what we’ve seen so far, I don’t feel the city understands how dire it is for businesses,” Harvey said.

Harvey said the bar relies totally on to-go orders and virtual tips.

With business down to less than 40 percent of what it was, he said, “it’s difficult.”

And even the to-go business has been tough. You can order a drink at a restaurant until 11 p.m., but you can’t buy a beer to go at Beermiscuous after 9 p.m.

“We’ve even paid the fee,” Harvey said.

CBS 2 reached out to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office and the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, following-up on requests made early this summer when the city claimed to be expediting the permit process.

BACP said it has been working with the business community to expand opportunities and make it easier to operate outdoors. They include new sidewalk café opportunities that have reduced the fee for restaurants to receive a sidewalk permit, expedited the permit process so that permits are now approved within one to two days of application when it sometimes used to be more than 30 days, and expanded sidewalk café boundaries.

BACP also noted it has created an expanded outdoor dining program that provides options for outdoor dining and drinking restaurants and bars that did not used to be allowed. The program launched on June 1, and expanded in July so bars and taverns that do not serve food could operate on the sidewalk in front of their establishments.

“This is a new program created specifically to supplement outdoor options during COVID-19, and we have created processes that involve rapid review by various City Departments to ensure safe and responsible operation,” BACP said. “While some permits applications have raised public safety concerns or been submitted with missing pieces, we issue the majority of permits within 10 days of a completed application.”

With specific regard to Beermiscuous, BACP said its permit application included owner information that did match what it appeared on its city or state license, and said that issue had to be resolved. BACP said it has been working with Beermiscuous to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible.

But Harvey said they fixed the issue with the application more than 10 days ago and still have not heard back from the city.

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