In Ashland, Oregon, the Local Businesses Come and Go
posted 02 Aug 2019 by Krister Axel
Kids were excited, lots of parents got dressed up, and the streets were buzzing with talk of Hufflepuffs and games of Quidditch.

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Well, if you live in Ashland, Oregon, you probably have seen a bunch of local businesses close down recently. We almost lost The Black Sheep a few years back, but someone stepped up. If you are wondering who actually saved it, look no further than John and Clarinda Merripen. They brought new life, a new sound system, and a new sense of purpose to Ashland's favorite late-night watering hole. That was the good news.

Now, the bad: we are losing Cripple Creek, the guitar shop. That is a difficult story to tell, there was an injury, and an emergency retirement, let's just say. I respect the family's privacy, so I will not comment further on what happened. But, it looks like Hilltop Music will move in, so Ashland will still have a music shop. That softens the blow a bit.

Last year, we lost Small Change, which was a children's store and a goto for this family since we moved here; that was difficult. We also lost The Outdoor Store, a huge and wonderful camping gear and recreational sports retailer. And very abruptly, Smithfield's Pub and Pies shut down for a few weeks to rebrand itself, and remove my favorite lunch dish from their menu - I was there for lunch sometimes twice a week. I will really miss those pies. The makeover is already complete, so that now it is simply Bird & Rye. We lost Anya's Thai. Tot Restaurant. This was a tough year for lunch options.

There are some success stories: Hither, our new favorite farm-to-table, is doing well, and they have a 3-year lease, so we have at least one year left to enjoy their salads and amazing fresh cuisine. Ashland Escape seems to be setting up more rooms, the count is now 3, so that's good news. Pie & Vine is doing well. Bestow & Bloom also deserves mention, as a successful plant shop that has survived and thrived for over two years now, which adds a naturalistic beauty and a pleasant place to shop for plants to the shortcut between Ruby's and Northwest Nature Shop. The takeaway is just that living in Ashland means dealing with change - the pattern is well-studied, as I think happens in a place like this. The money comes north from Silicon Valley, or south from Portland, and the main local business activity tends to cater to tourism - which is a finicky mistress on the good days. Now, you add the twin issues of the fifth season (smoke), and the lack of a consistent young, working-class constituency in Ashland, and you just end up with ideas that fall flat sometimes. Like that smoke shop that nobody went to, that now got eaten by Paddington Station. Or that silly Lavender Store. Ashland will give you that spark, and bring your idea to life, but the devil is in the execution. And I still don't see Ashland doing much to take care of its own; when I go to Jacksonville I feel like all of the local businesses understand and support each other. Everyone feels approachable and humble. Medford is too big to have that homey vibe, but Ashland could do that if it wanted. And to be fair, sometimes we do. But we need to do more.

Ashland Doing It Right - Example 1

Something like celebrating Harry Potter's birthday is both a great idea and a wonderfully unique aspect to the Ashland experience. Although there were some execution problems yesterday, the bottom line is that kids were excited, lots of parents got dressed up, and the streets were buzzing with talk of Hufflepuffs and games of Quidditch. This is why we are here: the children have access to something really special.

Ashland Doing It Right - Example 2

Lithia Park deserves mention as well. It is a wonderful resource for children, and as a backdrop for things like the Ashland Fairy Festival, it truly shines. These are photos from Lithia Park, on a gorgeous day in late June. The true magic here was the number of volunteers - mothers, sisters, and grandmothers who come together every year to make the dream come alive. It was a very special day, and cello-man was there.

And here is a little look at one of the Fairy 'stations'. Click the square to go full-screen, and feel free to move the camera around. :)

There Is Always Tomorrow

The businesses will come and go, and we just have to deal with it. So, we are closing out on a good note. Mezcal looks amazing, is a massive upgrade from the Granite Taphouse, and is finally open for business. Yes, please. I'll see you there!

UPDATE: August, 2019 - This post was edited slightly to reflect that Smithfield's Pub and Pies did note 'close down', per se, but rather was simply rebranded.

2nd UPDATE: Two more success stories have come to my attention, and it wouldn't be fair to not include them here. Sakana Co. makes some of the best sushi in Ashland, entering on Main St at Jefferson Spirits where you can enjoy an artisan cocktail while waiting for a table. I can personally vouch for the experience, my wife and I have stopped by before and had a wonderful time. And, courtesy of Bryant Helgeland, I am reminded that he was the hardgoods buyer at Ashland Outdoor Store, from 2001 until 2015, so although AOS is no longer with us, some of the same spirit is thriving at his downtown location which is called Mountain Provisions.

3rd UPDATE (Dec 2020): Sadly, since the coronavirus shut down the top 2 employers in town (SOU and OSF), the Ashland economy has slowed down considerably, and we lost a few more businesses - Morning Glory, for example. Then, in September, the wildfire came through. I wrote about that a little bit; what a tragic moment for the Rogue Valley. I got into a work-study program in Ottawa for next year, so we are leaving Ashland. I will keep this blog post up, because there is a magic to this place that I hope never leaves it.

About the Author


Krister Bjornson Axel

Ogdensburg, New York

Paris, France. Madison, Wisconsin. Los Angeles. Ashland, Oregon. Ottawa. I write music, I write about music, and I write code. See also: photography, prose, podcasting. I have 1 gorgeous wife, 2 amazing kids, and many interests.

Recent Awards: 2020 ND (Photo) Honorable Mention, 2020 Accenti Writing Contest Finalist