Small Businesses on One Chicago Street Struggle to Meet Demand as Covid-19 Restrictions End

CHICAGO—The owners of Roscoe Village Bikes say the shop should be thriving as Covid-19 restrictions fade away, but sales this month are down about 10% from a year ago because the shop can’t get enough new bikes and key parts to meet demand.

“Our suppliers are telling us that they have containers full of bikes sitting in the water” waiting to make it through overloaded ports, said Lesley Tweedie, co-owner of the shop. Some bikes she orders today might not arrive until October, she said. “It’s hard to sell a bike with that much uncertainty.”

Like small businesses across the country, most of the shops on Roscoe Street, a neighborhood shopping district on Chicago’s North Side, are eager to get back to normal after a year in which coronavirus restrictions held back foot traffic and limited in-person dining, shopping and services like haircuts. While business is coming back, small shops are now facing unexpected challenges, like shortages of workers, materials and capital that are preventing them from fully taking advantage of the state’s reopening earlier this month.

Five of the nearly 50 businesses on the strip, including a music school for preschoolers and a Latin fusion restaurant, closed permanently, said Colton Davis, business services manager for the Lakeview Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce. But 10 new businesses have come in to replace them.

A Federal Reserve study in April found that small businesses fared better than expected nationally during the first year of the pandemic, largely because of federal loan and stimulus programs. While about 600,000 businesses fail annually in a normal year, the pandemic took out a further 200,000, far fewer than some predictions, the study found.

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