Out-of-towners abound, but little biz for downtown restaurants

Even a sun-kissed Saturday couldn't overcome customers' aversion to getting stuck in NATO protests

May 19, 2012

(WBEZ/Michael Puente)

An influx of international visitors to Chicago for the NATO summit isn’t helping downtown restaurants. Several say they are feeling the pinch from a lack of customers.

Even a sun-kissed Saturday afternoon didn’t bring many out to Emilio’s Tapas in Streeterville, a neighborhood northeasat of Chicago's Loop. A few customers took in the nice weather and dined outside, but that mattered little to restaurant manager Salvador Moreno.

“Half of the restaurant is empty. Inside, there’s nobody,” Moreno said.

Moreno said business at his Spanish restaurant is down 50 percent so far this weekend, even though most of his customers are from out-of-town.

He believes talk of protest and traffic tie ups may have caused visitors to stay away, even though there were few disruptions downtown during the day on Saturday.

“No matter what you say, it’s what they hear in the media, you know,” Moreno said. “We don’t have a single reservation for Sunday.”

Other nearby restaurant and business owners echoed Moreno’s comments.

“It’s been hurting us so bad, starting last Monday. We have our regulars (customers) but many have left out of town because they were scared,” said Humberto Duran, manager at P.J. Clarke’s Restaurant and Bar at Columbus and Illinois. “Our business has dropped about 40 percent.”

Duran said he has no plans to close the restaurant unless forced to by police or if activities become unruly.

“It’s a beautiful day but we couldn’t take advantage of it,” Duran said.

Ann Radlick came in from Indianapolis this weekend for her bachelorette party with a bunch of girlfriends.

The group dined at Emilio’s Tapas.

“I thought it was going to be a bad weekend but it seems to be a lot lighter traffic and great weather. It’s great,” said Ann Radlick. “Just a lot more cops around.”

Some restaurants downtown will be closing early Sunday or not opening at all until NATO activities wrapped up Monday afternoon.