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Bitter chill to swallow

Metra commuters wait in Naperville Thursday morning.  | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Metra commuters wait in Naperville Thursday morning. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

A couple of regulars were waiting outside Panera Bread when manager Deb Feltz arrived at work early Monday morning.

Her usual 40-minute trip from home in Oswego had taken more than twice that long, and she had left later than usual. The northeast Naperville restaurant usually opens at 5:30 a.m., but on this day the hours would be shorter. The regulars, she said, understood.

By 10 a.m., just a handful of patrons dotted the dining room. Through the windows facing Ogden Avenue, it was clear that a lunch rush would be unlikely, as drivers made their way down the normally busy thoroughfare at wide intervals, nearly all of them moving below the posted speed limit. With the forecast all but assuring temperatures would remain well below zero through at least Tuesday morning, the place also would be closing early, Feltz said.

For those who had the option to do so, Monday was a day to stay home.

The tone around town, indoors and out, presented a sharp departure from the preceding several days, when snowplows and homeowners armed with shovels and snowblowers could be seen on nearly every street. With the mercury pushing 20 below on Monday morning, few were outdoors by choice.

Schools throughout the area that had been slated to reopen after winter break remained closed Monday and Tuesday. The schools reopened on Wednesday.

The sledding hill at 95th Street and Plainfield-Naperville Road — utterly deserted at noon on Monday, despite the generous load of fresh snowfall that came down Saturday and Sunday — offered testament to just how cold it was out there.

Roads that had been cleared repeatedly by city crews and contractors over the weekend again were treacherous, bearing a layer of ice and windblown snow that was slick in spots. Because bitter cold renders road salt virtually ineffective, the city had stopped putting the melting agent on the roadways. City spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said 10 plows were out in the early afternoon, however, clearing drifts that were reaccumulating on the streets on brisk and brutally frigid winds.

The Naper Boulevard branch of the Naperville Library — a designated public warming center, as are the other two library locations — had a few visitors Monday morning. Some were just patronizing the place as if it were a normal day, but it wasn’t. The three libraries, too, closed earlier than usual on Monday and Tuesday, locking up at 5 p.m. instead of the normal 9 p.m.

“We try to keep it open as long as we can,” said Dave Della Terza, branch manager.

The Naper Boulevard location had experienced higher volumes over the weekend than the staff anticipated.

“I expected to see nobody, but people were here from beginning to end,” said Carla Eisley, children’s associate.

A lot of visitors were using the public computers, she said, but books also were being checked out in fairly large numbers — likely in preparation for a few days of being housebound by the cold, she surmised.

Monday was another story. Eisley’s mid-morning story time drew just three young listeners, siblings who had come in with their mom and didn’t know about the read-aloud program ahead of time.

“We usually have anywhere from 30 to 60 people,” she said. “The 95th Street Library also had a 10:30 story time, and they did not get anyone.”

The library staff members were among many city employees who reported for work on a morning when the downtown retail district was dotted with businesses that remained dark, some with notes on the door explaining why.

“If you don’t have to be out today, you’re not going to leave home,” said Kim Bass on Monday. She is a salesperson who works at Country Curtains, located at 233 S. Main St. in Naperville. “We’re here today because we needed to be here to check on the store, take care of a few things, and be available for our customers. But I kind of doubt we’ll be open until 6 p.m. like we usually are.”

Mayor A George Pradel said that he appreciated “everyone pitching in to help during these tough times” on Monday and Tuesday.

“The streets are going to be emptier than usual, given schools are cancelled and the normal garbage removal services have been moved back a day,” he said.

Garbage and recycling collection did not take place on Monday due to the bad weather. All garbage and recycling collection will be delayed by one day for the remainder of the week.

“We’re fortunate and so blessed we have great people to work with,” Pradel said. “People in the downtown businesses all pitch in and make things happen when the chips are down.”

Katie Wood, acting CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance, said she emailed a number of merchants over the weekend about their status for Monday morning as well as spoke directly with nearly a handful before their businesses opened for the week.

Kyle Brady, an eight-year employee at the Naperville Running Company, said he expected business to be slow Monday and would be adjusting his plans for the day which included changing the workout for his athletes that he coaches at North Central College.

“The owner Kris Hartner meets with us in the morning and tells us what the sales number were like a year ago on the same date so we have some idea of the goal we’re trying to reach,” Brady said. “At this point, we’re hoping to do half the business we did a year ago and maybe make it up sometime later in the year when the weather is better.”

Meanwhile at the local Heaven-on-Seven restaurant, manager Justin Beyer said a bowl of gumbo was likely to be the only cure for those suffering from the cold weather.

“Our cooks get in here at 7 a.m. and they do a great job in terms of scaling back on the things they need to prepare each day if it looks like it’s going to be slow,” Beyer said. “Hopefully people will stop in for lunch and have the gumbo, which I recommend as the spices warm you inside and out.”

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