At least one Normal restaurant continued to offer indoor service even after a visit from police, in another sign of the limits of local enforcement of state COVID restrictions, records show.
Someone called 911 on Nov. 6 after noticing that Joe’s Station House in Normal was still serving customers indoors.
“I would just like to have an officer respond,” the caller said, according to audio obtained by WGLT. “I teach at ISU, and when students are gathering in groups of 10, they’re charged $750. So I just didn’t know … I would assume that’s true for anyone else gathering publicly, too.”
A Normal Police officer did respond Nov. 6 and found 55 patrons inside Joe’s, police reports show. Police told a co-owner that he was in violation of the state’s indoor dining ban.
That was no surprise because Joe’s had announced plans to continue offering indoor service on its Facebook page on Nov. 4, the same day the new restrictions went into effect. Joe's said it notified the McLean County Health Department (MCHD), in advance, of its plans.
“The order by the Governor suggests that restaurants are solely the cause of the spikes and conversely that we haven’t taken every precaution required of us,” the post read. “That could not be further from the truth.”
Normal Police returned to Joe’s on Nov. 13 and found the restaurant was still serving patrons indoors; this time there were only 15 to 20 people inside, police reports show. A manager told police “they were taking the COVID-19 situation very seriously and taking all the safety precautions possible. He noted there were more persons in the nearby Target and local big box stores than in his restaurant,” according to the police report.
Mayor Chris Koos sent Joe’s a letter on Nov. 16 about its alleged violations. Police reports were sent to the McLean County Health Department.
“As a liquor licensee in the Town of Normal, you have the duty to follow the law,” Koos wrote. “A violation may subject you to fines or to the suspension or revocation of your liquor license.”
The Joe’s Facebook page suggests it’s now only offering carryout and delivery. The owners of Joe’s did not respond to questions from WGLT last week.
Koos also sent a warning letter to Maggie Miley’s in Uptown Normal. Police visited Maggie’s on the afternoon of Nov. 15 and found seven patrons and five masked staff members inside the restaurant and bar, police reports show. A manager told police Maggie’s had been following the rules, but high winds that day made it too dangerous to use its outdoor tent area, records show.
The manager said they would shut down their indoor seating immediately, which police saw happen.
Since then, Maggie’s announced on Facebook it will shut down entirely “until further notice” starting Nov. 25.
“We hope that we have a 17th anniversary and many more, but we have to get through this first and with the government mandates and NO local, state, or federal relief, that will be very challenging. We know we are not alone in this and hope and pray for everyone to stay safe and healthy during this crazy time,” Maggie’s said on Facebook.
The City of Bloomington also is dealing with alleged COVID rule-breakers. A special liquor commission meeting was set for Friday afternoon, where 12 Bloomington bars stand accused of allowing indoor service and staying open past the 11 p.m. limit.
It’s a harsher approach to enforcement than McLean County has seen at other points in the pandemic. The public has been encouraged to file complaints with MCHD, but agency officials say they have “no authority to close or fine businesses for non-compliance with the state’s guidelines or proclamations.” The Illinois Municipal League says most cities, towns and villages have a limited set of tools when it comes to implementing coronavirus mitigation measures.
The pandemic has decimated Bloomington-Normal’s leisure and hospitality sector, including restaurants, bars, hotels, museums and the arts. Thousands of people remain out of work, and a new, even stricter round of restrictions went into effect Friday.
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