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After A Harrowing 2020, Chicago's Loop Is Coming Back To Life

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The foot traffic speaks for itself – the Loop is inching toward normal.

The Loop Alliance said office building capacity is getting higher by the week with 20 percent as of May 16, which means more downtown workers since the start of the pandemic.

"The return of suits, it's a beautiful thing," said Christine Bane of the Roanoke Restaurant, 135 W. Madison St.

For Loop restaurants like the Roanoke, that means the return of the lunch rush hour.

"We're seeing a lot of our old customers that used to come in daily coming back," Bane said.

The impact of COVID-19 and violence in 2020 was not unique to the Loop. But the Loop's economic engine is unique to Chicago.

Pre-pandemic, the number of people working in the Loop was 18 times larger than the number of people who lived there. But when offices sent workers home in droves work remotely, everything changed.

"Last year – very quiet, no one coming to the buildings, no foot traffic – just light, light business," Bane said.

Following civil unrest last spring and summer downtown, buildings were boarded up and police cars were out in force with their lights on. The forecast was grim.

"it was challenging," said Jessica Cabe of the Chicago Loop Alliance.

Take a lap around the Loop now, and most of the plywood from last summer is down – replaced here and there by leasing signs.

"I would say the majority of closures in the Loop were large national chains, and that covers a large amount of real estate," Cabe said.

Cabe has been tracking businesses that did not make it. But there is a silver lining. Those that did are making up for lost time.

"Definitely an increase – a strong increase," she said.

The alliance said last August, pedestrian counts in the Loop were down 70 percent from 2019. The latest numbers from May 30 show that number has jumped by a quarter.

"The sidewalks are full and restaurants and stores are open," Cabe said. "The weather's better, people are vaccinated, the foot traffic is getting back up to where we want it to be."

The Loop Alliance said major offices like JPMorgan, BMO Harris, and Citadel have announced plans to bring workers back to the offices this summer. The alliance releases new statistics every month on downtown businesses – look for their latest data on Tuesday.

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