Park Bait left dan­gling

Rough time for iconic shop while lake­front is ‘closed’

Chicago Sun-Times - - BY THE NUMBERS - DALE BOW­MAN dbow­man@sun­times.com | @Bow­manOut­side

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.

Stray cast

Fish­ing Canada’s Great Slave Lake or Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort?

DALE BOW­MAN/SUN-TIMES

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).

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