Park Bait left dangling
Rough time for iconic shop while lakefront is ‘closed’
Plexiglass shields protect the counter. Directional and social distancing signs are in place. Hand sanitizer awaits customers to the right of the counter.
Park Bait is ready to go, except no customers.
Since Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed Chicago’s lakefront March 26, Park Bait, a Chicago Park District concessionaire at Montrose Harbor, has been shut.
“[My son] Cory [Gecht] said, ‘This virus has made you a girl,’ ” Stacey Greene-Fenlon said in one of many recent conversations. “‘You’re crying and cooking. I just can’t do this, Mom.’ It gets to you after a while.”
Greene was literally born to this as the daughter of the late Willie Greene, who took over Park Bait, the iconic urban lakefront bait ship, in May 1958. Greene believes Pete Barry began the shop as Barry’s Bait in 1934 or ’35.
All she wants to do is get back to work; she’s not a denier of the pandemic.
“People talk about this like it is the flu,” she said. “Do you ever know someone who died of the flu?”
Her personal count is staggering: 65 acquaintances had confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 20 died. She knows many people because of her gift of gab and life dealing with thousands at the shop.
“I get every aspect of this,” she said. “I have seen a lot. I don’t regard this as a hoax or a joke, but we need to find a way.” That’s work reality.
“I take it seriously, but being in a small business, I can control my environment and should be open,” she said. “Especially if you are allowing people to escape to the lakefront.”
The lakefront was fairly successfully locked down until the days after the looting spree on May 30. Then, for all effective purposes, it reopened for those able to walk or bike in. Yet, rather gallingly, concessionaires were forced to remain closed.
That’s one of several galling points. “I’m the only bait store in America who ain’t making bank,” said Greene, who sees the unprecedented spike in fishing during the pandemic.
She sees that small businesses like hers got screwed during the shutdown while big box stores, such as Walmart, stayed open.
“In my business, and for what I do, this a different situation,” she noted. “Small businesses are built to handle this. I’m essential.”
Immigrants who still fish for sustenance and use Uptown as an entry point depend on Park Bait. Nearby residents rely on the shop for pet food.
“Nobody ever had that much control over me in my life,” Greene said. “And nobody ever will again. I have been doing some thinking over the table.” Emotions come in waves. “There’s days I sit in here and say, ‘Bye, Felicia,’ ” Greene said. “I don’t think I cried this much in my whole life.”
On Friday, she had a discussion with her 39th Ward alderwoman, Samantha Nugent, that felt productive.
“If I have to sit at City Hall, I will sit there,” Greene said. “This is what I know. I love my job. I miss my people.”
On a brutally hot Thursday afternoon, a refreshing breeze blew off Lake Michigan behind Park Bait.
“This has been my backyard for 54 years of my life,” Greene said.
It was time.
Fishing Canada’s Great Slave Lake or Walt Disney World Resort?
Owner Stacey Greene-Fenlon is ready to go, but Park Bait at Montrose Harbor remains closed to customers while the Chicago lakefront is off-limits (at least officially).