DIXON – After finally paying off the loan he took out to fund the 2017 purchase of his downtown Dixon bar, PatiO's Irish Pub, 2020 was stacking up to be the first year that Jesse Noyes could take home an income.
Other than being a watershed moment in any business owner's career, that prospect especially mattered because Noyes had an new mouth to feed – his infant son's.
But now, after celebrating his son's 7-month birthday earlier this week, Noyes' excitement has been replaced by a deep anxiety, and the chances of a check earned through his own business have faded with the reality of bills related to the coronavirus.
"I went from my business being in the best position to being in the worst position," said Noyes, 32, who owns and operates the bar, located at 222 W. First St., in Dixon, with his partner, Becky Sofolo.
That feeling intensified for Noyes and other Sauk Valley business owners on Thursday when Gov. JB Pritzker announced he intended to enforce additional mitigations on the region in response to sustained increases in virus metrics.
Known as Tier 2 Resurgence Mitigations, the restrictions will be applied to Region 1, which includes Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Winnebago and Whiteside Counties, starting Sunday.
They come after the nine-county region's positivity rate remained above the 8% positivity threshold after 14 days under Tier 1 mitigations, which went into effect on Oct. 3.
Under the additional resurgence mitigations, bars and restaurants must now limit the parties at outdoor tables to six guests, while continuing to prohibit indoor dining and drinking, close before 11 p.m., and practice social distancing.
Linda Durham, owner of Alley Loop Saloon and Deli in Dixon for the past 16 years, has a tent set up in the alley with two picnic tables and a portable heater for customers.
“I don’t see a lot of change from what we have been doing, because we don’t allow people in unless they’re at the machines and they’re gambling, and they have to wear a mask,” Durham said. “They can’t drink, but they can come in and use the bathroom, come out here and drink, and either be waited on or else go in, pick one up and come right back out.
“I have food too,” Durham said. “I can do curbside sandwiches, so that makes a big difference. I am here every day. I just figure we’re opening, the kids want to work, so this is what we have now.”
For Noyes, who has kept the bar open and in-compliance with all the Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines issued for bars since May, the notice Thursday of another set of protocols brought him another financial reckoning.
"I'm not taking in any personal income from the bar," Noyes said. "Any profit goes toward keeping my employees working – that's my top priority."
Noyes hasn't had to lay off an employee, yet. But the rest of the bills, like the mortgage on the bar and the constant flow of invoices for cleaning supplies, come out of Noyes' pockets, or from the savings of the business.
"At this point, the new rules just represent an ongoing cost," Noyes said. "They translate into the burden of additional costs of operating when its cold and providing that outdoor comfort so people want to drink here."
To stay open amid the Phase 4 guidelines, the Tier 1 mitigations and now, through the Tier 2 mitigations, Noyes said he's had to pay a monthly rent on an outdoor enclosure, cover fuel costs to keep propane heaters burning, and spend extra on disposable drinkware.
Durham said it's creating difficulties for businesses, but it's also crucial to get a handle on the rising coronavirus cases.
“They have to do something, I believe, to get this under control,” Durham said. “A restaurant, to me, is different. You go in, you sit with your group, that waitress has a mask on and she waits on you. I think they could ease up on them a little bit, but in the bars, everybody’s all over the place and nobody’s wearing a mask. That’s how it spreads.
“I totally understand why we’re doing this. You go to Wisconsin, they’re not doing anything and everybody’s having problems.”
Noyes received some financial assistance through the Dixon City Council's first round of business grants program, but those funds only went so far.
"I appreciated that help, and I know I'm not the only business who benefited from it, but now I'm like, 'I still need help,'" Noyes said, adding that he didn't apply for a federal loan through the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program because he didn't think he'd be able to sustain the loan's repayment component.
That led Noyes in May to make the choice of doing whatever he had to do to stay open, even if that meant "jumping through hoops" to comply with the IDPH guidelines.
"Is it worth staying open and complying, or closing and not taking the financial or the safety risk?" Noyes said. "Every business owner answers that question differently, but only they can answer it because they know their business better than anyone."
Noyes hasn't gotten to the "fiscal trade-off" where he needs to close the bar, but he can't imagine that he'll see a surge in patrons under the Tier 2 guidelines.
"People made up their minds a long time ago on whether they want to go out during the pandemic," Noyes said. "I'd be hard-pressed to find a group of more than six people who want to go to a bar together."
Even still, Noyes hopes that patrons do continue to support local businesses, especially because the stakes are so high.
"This place is our family's future, it's our baby's future, it's our employees' future," Noyes said.