Over the past two years, approximately 80 Illinoisans have shared how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing their lives, children’s education and businesses. Here’s how some of them weathered the pandemic, both those who thrived and those who lost.
For two years, Illinois imposed some of the toughest COVID-19 mandates in the country, creating unequal rules that favored the big over the small and left people looking for common sense. Nothing showed the cracks and hardships created by harsh general policies as well as the individual stories shared by more than 80 Illinoisans as part of the Your Story series since the pandemic hit.
There was often despair in their stories, but also the threads of hope and resilience that define Illinois.
On the second anniversary of the pandemic that changed Illinois, some of these original contributors wanted to share the outcome of their stories. Some have lost their businesses. Some are still fighting for their health. But still, hope and endurance shine through.
Here’s how they are doing now.
Sheldrick Holmes wasn’t inspired by his job in finance, so he went to culinary school and opened Grail Café in January 2020 in Chicago’s South Loop. It was a success, until the state and the pandemic shut it down. It survived, but the Delta variant and other restrictions hit harder.
“At one point, I didn’t even want any help. In fact, I just wanted to be open and work. I wanted to live and die by myself. I felt like they should just let me be open, let me work. I wanted to hustle like we did pre-COVID and see how far I made it,” Holmes said. “And that just wasn’t the story.”
The Grail Café closed its doors in November 2021. But Holmes isn’t giving up on Chicago. He is thinking about the next way to contribute to the city.
“I won because I opened a business and kept it open.”
Your Holmes story then
Your Holmes story now
Jackie Jackson was $70,000 behind in rent on his Kilwins location on Michigan Avenue in Chicago due to COVID-19 closures. Then the George Floyd riots destroyed his ice cream and chocolate shop.
But Jackson and his partners refused to give up. They have learned to innovate, meeting the pandemic demand for food while driving. They grew, but only because of their willingness to learn, to take risks and to believe.
“But one thing about this pandemic was pretty much a reset button. We have a time out. We had nothing else to do, so we started learning. We reinvented ourselves,” Jackson said.
“We just have to keep going, keep pushing. We have to overcome this. And I know we will.
Your Jackson story then
Your Jackson Story Now
Poopy’s Biker Bar in Savanna, Illinois was forced to close at the start of the pandemic, but owner Kevin Promenschenkel fought back to save the business he built for 24 years. The challenge has earned him threats from state regulators promising to permanently bankrupt him.
Two years later, Promenschenkel said his resilience and customer support were the only things keeping Poopy alive. He said surviving the past two years has forced a complete change in his business.
“We closed and it just killed us. Even if they hadn’t come to close us, we would have closed anyway. We stayed open because we wanted to save our business. Once people realized we were fighting, they came out of the woodwork to support us,” Promenschenkel said.
“We have remodeled and totally changed the way we do business in the last two years…some people have never recovered from the decisions made by our governor.”
Your Promenschenkel story then
Your Promenschenkel story now
When Governor JB Pritzker’s shutdown orders first forced Golden Brunch in Arlington Heights, Illinois, to close, owner Argie Karafotias said he feared for his family business and its employees. He gave all the food from his restaurant to his staff to help them get by.
Months later, they reopened, only to face a new state shutdown order. Karafotias was sure that would be the end.
Two years later, Karafotias thanks his loyal customers for getting him this far, but he’s unsure what’s next.
“Before the pandemic, we were growing rapidly with large companies. The pandemic has happened. We lost over $500,000 and now we’re trying to revive the business. Now we are just trying to survive,” Karafotias said.
Your Karafotias story then
Your Karafotias story now
All Occasions Flowers and Gifts by JoAnn Chumley in Jacksonville, Illinois was initially deemed “non-essential.” The state forced the flower shop to close in the spring of 2020, the busiest time of year for her. Proms, Mother’s Day and Easter all faded as she found herself with a cooler full of flowers she couldn’t sell and up to an estimated loss of $30,000 during what was supposed to to be one of its busiest months of the year.
Two years later, she slowly rebuilt the business thanks to some parents arranging an informal prom, homecoming funeral, perseverance and luck. But both his business and his city have changed.
“We also had a few new places, so it’s good for the city centre. But it’s still not where it was before the COVID shutdowns,” Chumley said.
“I started bringing employees back one by one. We have about nine employees. I mean their schedules aren’t like they used to be. Before, they had more, but people are more and more careful with their money.
She expects a long fight. She also sees an opportunity that didn’t exist two years ago: she might be able to sell the store and retire.
Your Chumley story then
Chumley is your story now
Vicki Granacki is a historic conservative who owns a century-old commercial building in Chicago that faces a 300% property tax hike at the same time the pandemic cost her some tenants and others needed rent breaks to get through the pandemic. If the tax bill stands, she will gobble up all of her rental income and leave nothing for other building expenses. She would sell, but wonders who would buy and preserve the historic building if it couldn’t make a profit.
“Before the pandemic, I was managing the building and coming into our office. But now my staff is working remotely. What’s the fun of going in when there’s no one else? Everything is just moving. I think we just have to hang in there, do our best and hope for the best,” Granacki said.
Your story of Granacki then
Your Granacki story now
Desi Muling Bayan
Village Inn Pizzeria is an institution in Skokie, Illinois where high school kids hang out and get their first jobs and where little league athletes come to celebrate wins or soften defeats. Randy Miles got himself into financial trouble trying to keep his employees paid as he watched at least 10 nearby businesses go bankrupt. After 30 years, he decided to sell his stake to Desi and Diane Mulingbayan. Diane Mulingbayan was one such employee who started as a teenager and worked her way to a partner.
The Mulingbayans have kept things going, trying to survive on take-out orders and watching former customers flee to nearby towns with fewer restrictions than Skokie.
“Customers pointed out that neighboring villages had indoor restaurants open or that they weren’t checking face coverings and urged us to do the same, which was valid. It was a frustrating situation,” Desi Mulingbayan said. “I’m all for following the rules. But obviously people were so divided about it. So, adhering to COVID guidelines, we chased businesses as a city.
Through the difficulties of COVID-19, rising labor costs and supply chain issues, they are determined to figure it out.
“We’ve been around for three decades, not because we’re awesome, but because our community is awesome,” Desi Mulingbayan said.
Your Miles story then
Your Mulingbayans story now