Oct 25, 2021 - COVID

Life and lines in the Loop these days

Cars on State Street in Chicago.

Midday traffic on State Street in Chicago. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Chicago's COVID-19 cases continue to fall but downtown life is still far from normal.

  • CTA ridership is still down by more than 50% from pre-pandemic levels.
  • Office occupancy is only at about 32% in buildings managed by leading commercial real estate services firm CBRE.

Why it matters: These reduced crowds are taking a toll on city coffers and some downtown businesses, but they also make attractions easier to enjoy for visitors and folks working downtown a few days a week.

What it's like: Monica took the Red Line downtown to check out the current scene.

Noon commute: Granted, this was never a crowded time for public transportation, but there were only nine other people in my train car — two without masks shouting at each other.

Woman with mask on in a train.
Monica on the train. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

The line report from former hot spots:

Entrance to Blue Crab Lounge.
Shaw's Crab House. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios
Looking into a restaurant.
Seats available midday at the Purple Pig. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios
  • The Purple Pig on Michigan Ave at 1 p.m. No line with a few open tables.
Room in a cafe.
Seats available midday at the big Starbucks Roastery on Michigan Avenue. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios
  • Starbucks Roastery on Michigan Ave. at 2 p.m. No lines to get in the building and short to no lines for food on the various levels. On the 3rd level we even spotted three empty window tables with sweet views of Michigan Ave.
Popcorn shop.
No line at Garrett's? Time for some Chicago Mix! Photo: Monica Eng/Axios
  • Garrett's Popcorn around 2:30 pm: No line at the locations off Michigan Avenue nor on Randolph St.
People standing outside the Secretary of State's office.
Short lines at the DMV in the Thompson Center. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Department of Motor Vehicles in the Thompson Center at 2:30 p.m.

  • Just two people stood in line outside the Illinois Secretary of State's office facility. Spokesman Dave Druker attributes the shorter lines to the DMV now allowing people to make appointments for services and allowing many renewals online.
  • But he says they are still processing 600 people a day, which is about the same as they had been doing.
  • One DMV worker says bad weather days still have the shortest lines.

Commute home at 5:30 p.m.: The State and Lake subway platform was about 50% full.

  • My train car was about 75% full but I still found a spot in my favorite part of the train, the conductor's closet.
  • It still smelled pee-ish in there. Some things never change.

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