Hanging Out in Rockford: Business as usual

On a beautiful sunny morning, they close off all the streets leading to the Irish Rose. Not just one street, but every street. State is closed between Third and Sixth. They have a detour going to Second, but at Second, there is a large barricade blocking the east bound lane. The barricade says closed to through traffic, but you get the picture. The only way you can get here is by taking the cut through from Kishwaukee to Third and then into the parking lot in front of the Rose. Otherwise, you have to be in the know and come by way of an alley or defy the barricade on State.

They are going to have the intersection of Third torn up for two weeks while they replace a water main. It is necessary to reroute the traffic to First Avenue while they do so. But there will still be the barricade and the detour sign because State Street will be blocked for three months. I have visions of going out of business.

The project director for the city comes in for lunch. He is a really nice young man whose name I cannot remember. He makes every effort to help. Signs are installed at both barricades that say that the Block Five businesses are open and accessible. That makes me feel a little better. So does the fact that my Monday business is almost normal. But business later in the week is like a wet blanket. It’s really not that hard to get here, but you are dealing with perceptions, and those are the hardest things to deal with.

Maria at Little Italy, Maria who is normally stoic, says something to me about the business. All I can muster up is a nod and quiet agreement. Friday night comes, and it is all too apparent. Our business, usually hotter than a pistol this time of year, is like January. The folks who do come remark on how easy it is to get here, but most of them are regulars and not easily deterred. The biggest loss is in lunch where we, like a lot of others on our street, count on the State Street traffic. Our nighttime regulars are more adventurous. Barricades, huh! But still we are off, a lot.

I hear through the grapevine that it is affecting my neighbors at Bacchus. Megan from 5 Spa stops for a drink and talks about how her east-side customers are frazzled the moment she talks about departing State Street. I wonder how we are all going to make it through the summer. Oh, make it we will. We are too strong an area to be fazed by something like this. It is actually pretty easy to get here if you want to, but we need to get the word out. A lot of profit will be lost, however, profit that is needed to keep the area going.

A bunch of the guys from the city are sitting at my bar having a cocktail. I walk outside to look at the mess. Suddenly, an idea pops into my head. There is a long-range proposal to change Third Street into a two-way. I remember Jim Ryan telling me about it at Little Italy. I walk down the now closed Third Street right of way and look at the intersection. There are lights on both sides of First Avenue. I walk back into the Irish Rose and run my idea past the people from the city.

The next day, I write a letter to the mayor, along with a diagram of my proposal. It would free up three of the four ways that you could get to Block Five. That is not too bad, considering the other option closes all of them. I tell him that I will have to borrow money to survive the three months that the street is to be blocked. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Saturday night I decide that I will not worry about it. Elisha has tickets to the Berry Ball and wants to know whether I will go. I figure what the heck. At 5:30, the dinner crowd is not that strong. I stop in the kitchen to show the staff exactly how I want the Salad Niscoise presented. Elisha calls me on the cell phone. She is sitting in the parking lot with the engine running. We drive out State Street to Giovanni’s. The parking lots of all the chain restaurants are packed. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. I decide not to let it bother me.

At the ball, I meet her Aunt Linda and Uncle Lance, and her cousin Mike and his wife Jessica. Elisha has neglected to tell me that the Ball has a ‘60s theme. I am the only person in the room in a sports jacket. Elisha and I sneak off to Big Al’s for cocktails and so that she can have a cigarette. All the bartenders at Big Al’s are very pretty women. We bump into Dawn, whom I haven’t seen for ages. I give her a hug. After the ball, I have Elisha drop me at Little Italy. I have one quick drink and then go straight upstairs at the Rose. We are going to refinish the wood floor the next day. I want to go to bed early so I will be fresh in the morning. After all, it’s business as usual.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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