Even with cold weather approaching and some businesses such as Regal movie theaters shutting down indefinitely while COVID-19 inhibits the appeal of being indoors, northern Illinois residents still have options to get out of the house for arts, entertainment and recreation.
Operators of destinations such as cinemas and family centers are getting creative and staying open, featuring bowling, laser tag and miniature golf as they prepare for temperatures to drop, in hopes of drawing customers to what they believe are safe indoor environments.
Meanwhile, senior centers are continuing to welcome ideas for virtual events and outdoor, in-person get-togethers for limited numbers of participants at a time. And cultural facilities and downtown business organizations are extending into November seasonal attractions that have proven popular during this strange year.
Mayor Wayne Jett, co-owner of the McHenry Downtown Indoor Theater, said the business is “changing directions” to offer more than just film showings. He said one of its theaters is being remodeled to include a 12-by-20-foot stage that will remain even after the outbreak is under control, with the right lighting and sound to host live acts such as stand-up comedy, magic shows and plays with small casts.
Comedians Jim Florentine and Kevin Farley are set to come to the revamped theater for two shows each the nights of Oct. 23 and Nov. 6, respectively, with tickets available online at bit.ly/3nGGfOa.
In downtown DeKalb, the Egyptian Theatre has succeeded in showing off its $6.5 million expansion by increasing the frequency of its “haunted” tours, normally offered only once a month or every other month, said Jeanine Holcomb, marketing and communications director for the theater. They are now available on all Friday nights through the end of the month and into November, she said.
Tickets for those tours are almost sold out, with only one remaining for Oct. 16, and limited availability for the theater’s “high octane” haunted tour on Halloween night, which will feature a “special paranormal medium tour guide,” Holcomb said. At least two more tours are going to be offered in November, which is unusual for the theater, Holcomb said.
“We felt like it would be the logical choice to keep offering them. People keep buying them,” she said.
It is also showing classic horror movies Saturday and Sunday nights in its 1,400-seat theater that allows adequate social distancing, as well as a production of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" on Oct. 30 that will scale back how close cast members get to the audience, Holcomb said.
“We can’t wait until COVID has passed and we can have a large party and show people the new digs,” she said. “Until then, we’re glad to continue having people in small groups.”
In Aurora, downtown storefronts along the Fox River are decorated by local artists with colorful skulls as part of the celebration of Mexican heritage for the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, that the organization Aurora Downtown has helped put on, its manager Marissa Amoni said. The area will be known as "Sugar Skull City" from now to Nov. 15 for people to take self-guided tours, and the month will include a virtual how-to class on making your own sugar skulls, according to the Aurora Downtown website.
"We have a very large downtown, so things are separated, and people don’t congregate necessarily along one street. We’re using that to our advantage, and we’ve come up with crowd-free activities, which include scavenger hunts," Amoni said. "We are inviting people downtown to experience authentic Mexican culture by visiting Mexican bakeries, restaurants and seeing decorated storefronts. Dozens of businesses have hired local artists to decorate their storefronts for Day of the Dead heritage."
Agritourism operators in northern Illinois offering visitors the chance to navigate corn mazes, pick pumpkins and enjoy other harvest season fun on the farm are expecting to have a big year as the heightened risk of indoor virus spread gives outdoor activities more appeal, the Northwest Herald reported last month.
For Selmi’s Greenhouse, Farm and Pumpkin Patch in Rock Falls, whose corn maze this year is in the shape of a decorated skull when seen from above in honor of Day of the Dead, the weekends have indeed been busy, farmhand Ava Prior said.
The pandemic and the limited options for having fun away from home this year may have brought some first-timers to the farm this season, even as certain attractions, such as its haunted house and jump houses, are closed this year because of the outbreak, Prior said.
“I’d say we have had a lot of new faces here for sure,” Prior said.
Residents and tourists looking for a bit of friendly competition can test their skills at bowling, miniature golf, arcade games or laser tag at Plum Hollow Family Center in Dixon, which has been open since late June and is limiting groups to fewer than 25 customers, with empty lanes between parties.
Plum Hollow’s bar is shut down, but food and beverage service is still available at tables.
“In comparison to being closed, it’s much better,” Plum Hollow owner Al Norman said. “We make our money on the large groups. It’s that window, historically December through March, where we need to be able to have big numbers of people in the building. But for right now, it’s keeping people on payroll, it’s keeping the lights going. We’re not losing money.”
Senior citizens, who are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 than younger populations, still have options to get out of the house and gather together in small numbers, or online.
McHenry Township Senior Center is unable to host programming in its facility still, activity director Jane Gregory said. However, she has found some seniors enjoy the knitting and crocheting classes she has been able to offer in a park shelter near the center, and games such as hangman played over video chat, including a round Gregory led Thursday, have been a hit, too, she said.
“We play pokeno on Mondays, bingo on Wednesdays and exercise (via Zoom) on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Gregory said.
She is also open to suggestions from community members on virtual or in-person events to offer to small numbers of participants.
“We are planning on being outside and doing activity even into next month if we can,” she said, adding that seniors can access a shelter with a fireplace that can accommodate up to six people with social distancing in place.