Fans flock to Old Town art fair after reopening


CHICAGO (CBS) —  It’s been more than a year since big crowds were seen at Wrigley Field.

But the changes extend far beyond the ballpark.

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CBS 2’s Brandon Merano reports from Old Town where organizers are setting up for its annual art fair.

For more than 70 years, Old Town hosted its annual art fair. Organizers are cleaning the streets and blocking off traffic in Old Town as the city and state fully reopen for the first time since the pandemic began.

“We were open all the time and never closed down for one day, business was down for sure and it was hard but we had a lot of support from our customers,” said Old Jerusalem owner Ahmed Awad.

While people flock to bars and restaurants, a block west of Wells and North Avenue the Old Town Art Fair is preparing to host some of the best artists throughout the country.

But a brush with a pandemic put a damper on last year’s festivities.

“We had a run of 70 straight years of doing the art fair but we sadly had to cancel last year,” said Anne Giffels of the Old Town Art Fair

That left hundreds of artists stuck in their homes unable to attend any events.

“All of the art shows just closed because it was too dangerous to have large groups of people so we’ve been at home for a year. Good and bad, I get a lot of studio time,” said artist Julie Keaten-Reed.

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For artists and business owners alike, selling their products took some creativity.

“We had clients sitting at home looking at bare walls like us. So we got a lot of commission work,” added artists Russ Keaten-Reed.

But not every business was as lucky as Russ and Julie.

According to the Illinois Restaurant Association, 20% of restaurants have shut down or will shut down due to COVID.

And Illinois is still down more than 90,000 restaurant jobs since the pandemic.

It’s why Ahmed’s cafe has such a rare story.

“A lot of people closed down or had half their employees working but we had everybody working,” said Awad.

Other business owners said one other problem is preventing them from fully reopening, especially 24 hour businesses, is that they’re having a hard time finding workers.

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Some are even offering signing bonuses.