Small but Mighty

Local businesses power through the pandemic


No more than 9 months ago, any person driving through the city of Ashland would notice the bustling, friendly, small town that we know and love. You could almost always count on seeing someone feeding the ducks in Lithia Park, playing their guitar on the Plaza, tourists taking photos of the deer on their way to a Shakespeare play, or locals shopping at the Farmer’s Market. A lot can change in a few short months. Due to the skyrocketing number of COVID cases that slowly, but surely have made their way into the community, Ashland is no more than a ghost town. Restaurants and coffee shops that were once too busy to get a table at are now deserted, and many businesses around town have been forced to lay off half of their staff, or even close their doors for good. However, Ashland’s struggles are somewhat small compared to other towns and states nearby. As winter approaches and illness is easily spread, the Governor of Oregon has ordered a statewide lockdown. Put into effect on November 18th, with restrictions originally expected to lift December 2nd, we now find ourselves in a longer lasting shutdown. With over 81,000 COVID-19 cases in Oregon, (as of Dec. 5) the freeze was widely expected. All the same, going back into lockdown means that many of Ashland’s beloved businesses will be forced back into the battle of remaining open long enough to survive this new surge of the virus.

From restaurants to local shops, every business is feeling the effects of COVID-19 in some form or another. Owner of Rogue Valley Roasting Company, Dustin Way, and Sonya Smith who owns Le Cirque Centre give firsthand accounts of what keeping a business afloat during a pandemic is really like.

Unlike many others, Way anticipated the first lockdown as it approached, and began taking precautions much earlier than the rest of town. He emphasizes that he urged customers to wear masks five weeks before the state did. “We’ve always been on the safer end of the spectrum in terms of what is required for restaurants,” Way said. Smith, who had only just moved to Ashland months before “the world stopped”, has also felt the overwhelming complications of trying to keep her newly bought business open. Unlike Smith, Way has owned Roasting Co. for twelve years, and completely closing its doors for an unknown extent was a difficult decision, but Way knew it was the smartest move to make for his business and his employees. He continues, “Most of my efforts have been to keep my employees safe. They’re the ones at highest risk for exposure.” Although he was able to rehire most of them back, Way was forced to lay off all fifteen of his employees when going into lockdown, while Le Cirque was also forced to halt all business. In the case of an arts teacher, this meant that her cirque students couldn’t attend their ariel classes. Smith continues that she was able to partially reopen in the summer to run camps, but her numbers were exceedingly low, and therefore could only hire a few coaches. Similarly, since safely reopening, Way has come to experience the financial difficulties the pandemic has brought. As Ashland schools have also been closed, Way has lost the greater part of his customers, which were typically students from Ashland High School, the Middle School, and kids from the elementary schools. He states, “We’re down almost 50% in sales from even just last week.” In order to make up for lost time and revenue, Way’s wife, Aimee, has opened a gift shop in the cafe, where she has been selling earrings, handmade gifts, and more. Unfortunately, moving into a new lockdown abolished any hope of continuing classes for Le Cirque, and although Smith was planning to take a few weeks off for the holidays, she wasn’t expecting to have to close her business once again. “The difficult thing is that right now, everyone is just so disappointed. We were just getting back; we were just getting strong.” She concludes, “The future of Le Cirque is unsure and undetermined.” That being said, Roasting Co. will be available for takeout moving forward into the latest freeze, and Way hopes to continue keeping the shop open into the winter months. He sincerely believes, “We’ll get through this together!”

This all goes to show how quickly things have changed in our beloved town and the rest of the world in such a short time. Small business owners now have to fight to keep their businesses afloat and their morale from wavering as this pandemic continues to dominate. However, locals can approach the new year knowing that the Ashland community will be there to encourage and support them while navigating these unprecedented times together.