Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s main attractions. Home to more than 70 businesses, the complex on the shore of Lake Michigan is normally filled with crowds on a summer day.

“Navy Pier is rocking, there’s people everywhere, there’s excitement, there’s fireworks, it’s a good time at Navy Pier,” said Stephanie Hart, the owner of Brown Sugar Bakery, which has two locations, one on the South Side of Chicago and the other at Navy Pier. This year, she says, “it just wasn’t the same.”

The pier shut down when the pandemic hit in March, and then reopened in June. According to Payal Patel, its communications director, attendance was just 15 percent this summer from the one before. It shuttered again after Labor Day and now plans to reopen in 2021.

“It was heartbreaking, not just about my business, but to see Navy Pier in that kind of condition,” Hart said.

During the pandemic, much of the conversation around small businesses has focused on lockdowns and reopening — just let things open back up again, the line of thinking goes, and everything will be okay. But the reality of the situation is that for many businesses, that’s just not the case. According to Yelp, more than 160,000 US businesses on its platform have closed since March 1, nearly 100,000 of them permanently. Data from Homebase, a team management software company, shows that the number of hours worked at small businesses is still about 20 percent below January.

“People are not comfortable going to public places yet. We’ve tried to put so many safety measures in place, but all of that, essentially, is not going to matter if people will not come,” Patel said.

You can’t force business as usual when

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