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Southern Oregon Businesses Tentatively Begin Reopening

Liam Moriarty/JPR News
Rogue Valley Roasting Company in Ashland is among the many Southern Oregon businesses opening their doors for the first time since coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders shut them down in March.

From restaurants to retail shops, businesses have begun to reopen two months after Governor Kate Brown ordered them shuttered to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Rogue Valley Roasting Company on East Main Street in Ashland has long been a bustling neighborhood hangout. But this morning, the chairs and tables are all cleared away and only two people are standing in line waiting for their hot drinks. Still, manager Kayla McDonald is looking on the bright side.

"I would say it’s not any slower than it’s been. It’s actually picking up a little bit," she says.

McDonald, wearing a cloth mask with a coffee bean motif, says this is the first day since mid-March the coffee house has opened for walk-in traffic. Up till now, they’ve been trying to get by on take-out only. She walks me out the back door and points to the new table arrangement.

"We can guarantee space out here, outside so we’re just doing outdoor seating," she says. "We’re wiping down every surface that people touch. We’re limiting it to six people inside and we’re doing all our drinks to go."

Liam Moriarty/JPR News
Barista Danielle di Pietro whips up a hot drink for a customer at the Rogue Valley Roasting Company in Ashland.

McDonald says she and the owner have been alternating solo shifts, so it’s good to have some of her co-workers back in the shop. And she thinks her customers will return soon.

"I foresee it picking up. I foresee a lot of people coming back. At least our regulars that we used to get will come trickling back, I imagine.”

About a half mile down the road is Bloomsbury Books, an Ashland icon. Co-owner Karen Chapman says that, for the past two months, the store has been making do with phone orders and curbside pickup.

"But now we’re letting people in. just starting today," she says. "And we have traffic patterns so that people will be able to avoid each other and stay their six feet apart. And we’re not allowing more than six people in and they all must have a mask when they come in."

So, how’s that working out?

"It’s been busy," she laughs. "We have two people working the cash registers and we’re trying to keep them separated, too."

Liam Moriarty/JPR News
Karen Chapman, co-owner of Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, has re-opened with full social distancing. She limits the store to 6 people at a time.

Chapman says she’s begun calling back employees who were laid off when the governor ordered non-essential businesses to close.

And it turns out that, with people stuck at home for weeks under lockdown, a bookstore is a pretty good business to be in.

"People are reading those books they haven’t had time to read before," Chapman says. "And also our crossword puzzle books and also the home education books for parents who are homeschooling their kids at this point. So all those types of books are selling quite well."

Chapman says she doesn’t know what to expect this summer. But, with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and other large entertainment venues closed for the season, tourist traffic is likely to be way down.

Paddington Station is another downtown Ashland landmark. It’s a small department store offering housewares, home décor, gifts and more. Owner Pam Hammond-Morris says when the shut-down order came in March, she and her crew had to get creative.

"We did concierge shopping," she says. "We did curbside pickup. We did free local delivery. We developed an e-commerce website and really amped up our social media platforms."

They also got busy around the store.

"We did a tremendous cleaning. We painted lots of things that we could never paint when we were open. So we really tried to make lemonade out of very, very sour lemons."

Liam Moriarty/JPR News
Pam Hammond-Morris owns Paddington Station in downtown Ashland.

Nonetheless, she soon had to lay off pretty much all of her staff. Now that she’s reopening her doors, that’s changing.

"We are back up to about 40 percent of what we had beforehand and every week, we’re trying to bring on more people back into the workforce here."

At this point, Hammond-Morris is allowing up to 25 people at a time into Paddington Station’s three floors of retail space. Still, she says, with the dire expectations about the tourist season this year, she has no illusions about the road ahead.

"Retail is quite wounded right now," she says. "And we will be for quite a while. We have always been resilient and we are optimistic. We will make it through this."

For these and other business owners in Southern Oregon, the coming weeks and months will be crucial. Any number of potential pitfalls – no tourists, a smoky fire season, a resurgence of COVID-19 – could put them flat on their backs again. But for now, they’re working hard, keeping their hopes up and taking it one day at a time.