Woes of Ashland Business Owners Aired at City Council Roundtable Correction Noted.

Woes of Ashland Business Owners Aired
Fri, Sep 22 at 6:29 AM
Correction. It’s been pointed out to us that this article identified one of the restaurant owners as Lisa Beach when it was Lisa Beam.


 By David Runkel
Ashland’s small retail stores and restaurants are hurting and some will be closing for good this fall as a result of reduced tourism.  Growing businesses are having a hard time finding space in Ashland to expand.   Running and biking events are drying up due to permit problems from the US Forest Service and the city.  No major programs to bring tourists to the city are scheduled in the first months of next year.
Musicians are leaving town.  Artisans are not as numerous.  The Saturday Farmers Market is a shell of what it used to be.


Staffing of many small businesses is a continuing problem because Ashland housing is too expensive for many workers and public transportation is insufficient. 


There’s an increasing rat problem.


And, finally “nobody knows what we have here.”  


These are some of the comments made at a City Council Business Roundtable last night. The tales of woe came from restaurant owners Lisa Beam of Pie and Vine, Clarinda Merripen of The Black Sheep and Eli Catlin of the Brickroom; several real estate executives; the owner of the former Plexis building on A street, the head of Mt. Ashland ski area and a couple others.


Closing the meeting, Mayor Tonya Graham said the Council will hold a study session later in the fall to review what was said.


A common thread in the discussion was the impact on city restaurants and merchants by the reduced schedule of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Ms. Beach pointed out that instead of opening in mid-February, this year it opened in mid-April; instead of closing in early November, it’s closing in mid-October; instead of being dark one night a week, it’s dark 2.


Another participant wondered if having “New York and San Francisco” board members was a major contributing factor to Shakespeare’s changed schedule and playbill.


On another front, a businessman complained that the city government was not helpful in his search for property to expand his firm and in fact was told he should look in Medford.  Other complaints were voiced about downtown landlords who are not improving buildings.  And, the city’s aging population was seen as a problem for sustainability of some businesses. 


In closing comments, Councilor Paula Hyatt said the city needs to review licensing and other interactions with the business community, Councilor Eric Hansen said “multi-use of OSF spaces” needs to be expanded; Councilor Gina DuQuenne said more affordable housing is needed and event planning needs to be done to ensure there is “no down season” for visitors, and Councilor Dylan Bloom argued that the entrance to the city from the south needs to be upgraded. 


City Manager Joe Lessard started off the meeting outlining help to small businesses being undertaken by the city.  This includes improving directional signs, new downtown trash containers, other downtown beautification efforts, a $175,000 grant program to businesses and a $100,000 child care assistance program.

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