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Grafton businesses expect crowds during reopening weekend

"It's not going to be a Lake of the Ozarks situation, but there's gonna be a lot of people here -- we hope,” said the owner of The Loading Dock

GRAFTON, Illinois — As most of Illinois enters Phase 3 of the reopening plan, businesses in Grafton are eager to welcome back visitors.

“The bills keep coming whether you're open or not, so it's been a challenging time,” Peter Allen, owner of The Loading Dock, said.

Last summer, the restaurant was underwater, along with much of the town.

This spring, like the rest of the world, it was inundated by the impact of COVID-19.

But Allen said the tide is turning now that his and other businesses will be allowed to reopen Friday.

"We’re excited to be getting back to normal — not the new normal —  but really, we're going to be able to get back to normal,” he said.

That’s because phase three allows for outdoor seating at restaurants, and that's what the Loading Dock is known for.

"Even our inside seating is outside here. We remove the walls by raising the doors,” he said.

Restaurants without that setup can get creative.

"I've given them the green light to go ahead and do that to use city sidewalks, parking lots, FEMA buyout lots, whatever they need to do to make sure they can accommodate customers and provide social distancing,” Mayor Rick Eberlin said.

RELATED: Belleville approves plan for businesses, restaurants to reopen under Phase 3

RELATED: Restaurants, salons, shops: Here's what can reopen in Illinois' Phase 3

But the mayor said not every business is coming back.

"They just were crushed last year, had a little bit of optimism going into this year and then with the pandemic it just kicked them while they were down,” he said.

Despite the setbacks, he said he's anticipating a successful late start to the season.

"I'm very optimistic about the weekend,” Eberlin said.

But he said it will be largely up to customers to make sure they’re following social distancing rules.

“We, right now, have one officer on duty. We might go to two on the weekends, but our financial situation is so bleak, that’s all we can afford at the present time. For them to go around from place to place and try to enforce — it’s impossible. So with that in mind, I ask people to be cognizant and respectful of everybody,” Eberlin said.

At the Loading Dock, Allen said he's brought back almost all 50 employees he furloughed months ago and he expects them to be busy.

"It's not going to be a Lake of the Ozarks situation, but there's gonna be a lot of people here -- we hope,” he said.

He said he, too, would ask customers to be respectful of personal space.

"It's a tough time to be a business owner, but there's no place we'd rather be than Grafton,” Allen said.