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A Glimmer Of Normalcy In Chicago As Customers Return To Small Businesses And Massive Venues Alike

CHICAGO (CBS) -- This first weekend of May was a first crack at normalcy for many businesses welcoming back customers – from small businesses to massive operators such as Navy Pier and Arlington Park racetrack.

As CBS 2's Chris Tye reported, improving weather and an improving COVID-19 trend line were a perfect blend at Navy Pier on Saturday, as many pandemic restrictions disappeared. The Navy Pier Ferris wheel is moving again, and so is Chicago's economic engine – all around the city.

Georgia Utendahl is the owner of Georgia's Food Depot, a soul food restaurant at 7352 S. Halsted St. in the Englewood neighborhood. Life's menu has served Utendahl 50 years of challenges – from nurse's assistant to the GM factory floor.

But keeping her eatery afloat during pandemic? Utendahl described that as "tougher than anything I've ever had in my life."

With the help of the Englewood Community Development Corporation, Utendahl, 76, celebrated the grand reopening of Georgia's Food Depot on Saturday.

While she doesn't feel out of the woods, she is confident things will improve.

"I have to believe that," Utendahl said. "I invested my life savings in here, so I have no choice but to believe it's going to get better."

Around Chicago and the suburbs, things are getting better.

One year ago Saturday, the iconic music venue Ravinia in Highland Park announced its summer series of concerts was scrapped because of pandemic.

This summer, the music will be back. With restrictions loosened, their schedule will be released Thursday.

Also one year ago this weekend, Arlington Park racetrack was silent.

Not only did pandemic restrictions preclude visitors - they also forced Kentucky Derby weekend to slide to the Fall.

This Derby Day, it was a sellout at the park – though there was a limited capacity.

But with all these small signs of normalcy, there is still a long way to go before taking that deep breath and putting pandemic in the rearview mirror.

"It's not over. This is the beginning," Utendahl said. "We still have problems, but I feel that I'm going to make it. Every day, I tell myself I'm going to make it."

Utendahl said part of getting small and large businesses a shot in the arm of feeling like there is stability is seeing customers showing up.

She said in her 76 years, it has never been more important to get out and support the businesses that still living day to day.

And meanwhile at Navy Pier, the fireworks are back at 9 p.m. Saturday.

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