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Small Businesses In Southern Oregon Struggle During Global Pandemic

April Ehrlich | JPR News
The Plaza in downtown Ashland is normally bustling with tourists around this time of year. The coronavirus pandemic has changed that.

While the coronavirus pandemic has hit small businesses hard, Gov. Kate Brown’s statewide closure of dine-in restaurants could provide some help.

Many small businesses can now file claims of losses with their insurance companies because of Brown's government order, and some workers who have been laid off can apply for unemployment insurance. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is considering nationwide measures to help Americans financially.

Even so, some workers aren’t entirely confident in what the state or federal government might provide.

“How long will unemployment last?” asks Lisa Figueroa, manager of the Greenleaf Restaurant in downtown Ashland. “Everybodys going to be on unemployment. I know that they have plans in the making, but there’s not enough information for us to feel comfortable.”

A few hours before Brown announced restrictions on dining out and large gatherings on Monday, Figueroa was preparing the restaurant for guests.

“We’ve moved tables around, so there’s more space between everybody,” Figueroa says. “We pulled all the salt and peppers. We’re sanitizing them.”

Figueroa says just a few days ago her staff was powering through lunch and dinner rushes, and people were crowding nearby bars.
“But that was last week,” she says.

Luckily the Greenleaf can still do deliveries, which the state has allowed to continue. But Figueroa isn’t sure how the coronavirus pandemic will ultimately impact the restaurant in the long run, which just opened last month after a big remodel.

“If this does last a couple of months, will people be willing to go out after this for a while?” she says. “Will people decide this next summer not to go to places now due to this. What businesses are going to be affected so badly that they won’t be able to reopen?”

Restaurants like the Greenleaf and other small businesses in Ashland revolve their annual plans around the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the largest regional theater in the U.S. It attracts several hundred thousand tourists throughout its 9 month schedule.

But with the state’s ban on large gatherings, essentially all arts organizations had to cancel their events for several weeks. This week the Cultural Advocacy Coalition started collecting economic data from these organizations.

“It’ll be interesting to see what the tally is on the actual impact,” says board member Jeff Hawthorne. “We’re thinking it could be as high as $30 million for every month that the arts organizations are closed.”

Oregon has 11,800 nonprofit arts organizations, which employ over 40,000 people across the state.

“Many of those employees will be laid off or furloughed while the state of Oregon asks everyone to stay home,” Hawthorne says.

Credit April Ehrlich | JPR News
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel a month of performances because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tourism makes up a large portion of the economy in southern Oregon. It brought in $1 billion into the region in 2018. Bob Hackett of Travel Southern Oregon has hope that people will still continue to travel this summer, and perhaps they’ll take trips that don’t require an airplane ticket.

“I think the idea of coming to a smaller, more rural location destination that is rich with culture that's rich with culinary, that's rich with outdoor possibilities — I actually think that this summer we’re positioned well,” Hackett says.

But things are changing rapidly and it’s hard to figure out what will happen in the next few days, let alone the next few months. Hackett and small business owners say for now, they’re taking it one day at a time.


April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.