Chicago businesses that offer a human touch are thriving 3 years into the pandemic

What Jenise Rodriguez had to offer wasn’t considered essential, but it was something her clients couldn’t get anywhere else, judging by how they returned when she reopened her spa in 2020.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Rodriguez, a dermatologist based in Logan Square, prepared to move her small business to a bigger location, but instead, the state’s stay-at-home order left her trying to pay rent on it original location. on West Fullerton Avenue.

Her business, Sanar Aesthetics, was one of many the Sun-Times spoke to in 2020, and three years later, it’s one of many that has endured — thanks to the human touch, they said.

Rodriguez, 39, closed for about five months, first because of the lockdown and then because the pandemic delayed renovations at her new location, on West Armitage Avenue.

Sanar Aesthetics, located at 3658 W. Armitage Ave.  in the Logan Square area, is seen in this photo, Saturday, March 18, 2023.

Sanar Aesthetics, located at 3658 W. Armitage Ave. in the Logan Square area, is seen in this photo, Saturday, March 18, 2023.

She offered online consultations, but had trouble securing federal small business aid and doubted the spa would last.

“I honestly didn’t know if my career was going to be over,” she said. “I was paying rent and I couldn’t even use the space.”

Even when she reopened, covid regulations prevented her from offering facials, her most popular service—and 85% of her business.

But that didn’t stop customers from coming back, asking for facials instead.

“When I opened up again, I was thrown,” she said.

“Clients craved the human touch and contact at that time,” she added. “I don’t just give facials. I make people feel good and comfortable in their own skin.”

Prudence Faklaris attributed the success of her North Side cafe to something similar.

“It’s not just brunch food for us,” Faklaris, co-owner of Honeybear Cafe. “We’re trying to make it more of an experience.”

Falkaris, 38, and her husband opened at 7036 N. Clark St. in Rogers Park in early 2020, joining a local business association. Soon they faced a lot of uncertainty.

“Our members are absolutely pissed off,” Sandi Price, executive director of a business group in Rogers Park, told the Sun-Times during the shutdown.

The cafe successfully navigated the early days by transitioning to outdoor dining and serving healthcare professionals, Price said.

However, the cafe has since become a neighborhood staple, which Faklaris attributed to their service.

“People yearn for people. You don’t realize how much weight you carry just by complimenting someone, by saying hello,” she said. “We try to do that with our guests – ask them where they’re from, what brought them here and try to get to know them.”

John Whedbee, owner of Heart of Chicago Grooming, with his dog, Wally.

John Whedbee owner of Heart of Chicago Grooming and his dog Wally, inside his grooming salon in Pilsen in 2020.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Longtime Pilsen business owner John Whedbee wished more neighborhood eateries had made it through the pandemic, but was thankful his dog grooming business survived unscathed.

“The first shutdown was really a moment of uncertainty,” said Whedbee, 35. “We had no idea what it was going to look like.”

But, like Rodriguez, when he reopened Heart of Chicago Grooming, 1921 S. Blue Island Ave., his schedule quickly filled up.

He attributed that to his approach — only one dog on the property at a time, and the dog is never caged. It is ideal for nervous dogs or owners who do not want their dog in a cage.

“In the middle of the shutdown, our clientele realized how valuable our service was,” he said. “They were frantic to get back here.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for Americaa non-profit journalism program aimed at strengthening the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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