Fourth of July crowds boost revenue at Ashland's downtown shops

At a time when money is tight many hesitate to fill up a gas tank. On the Fourth July and the weekend after it, Ashland locals and visitors were less frugal when it came to filling up their stomachs.

The annual Fourth of July celebration in downtown Ashland included a morning run, parade down East Main Street and a street fair in Lithia Park where local vendors sell everything from old fashioned lemonade to wind mobiles. This year, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce estimated 20,000 people attended the festivities.

Downtown businesses already depend heavily on income from tourists in the summer brought in by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but the Fourth of July provides an opportunity for some to almost double their normal revenue. The only other comparable period of time during the summer is mid-June when the Elizabethan Stage opens followed by local graduations and topped off by Father's Day.

This summer, business owners in downtown Ashland report that the teetering economy has impacted the amount of revenue they are making but not necessarily for the worse.

Tom DuBois, the owner of Grilla' Bites, an order-at-the-counter sandwich, soup, and salad restaurant, explained that business is better since the economy's downturn.

"I think people can spend this much on going out [holding his hand high above his head], they can spend this much [lowering the hand to eye level] or they can spend this much [hand below his chin], DuBois said. "We are in the middle and we have great, healthy food so it works out great for us.

Many downtown eateries that sit in DuBois' eye-level palm seem to be doing well in comparison to non-food stuff selling stores. This was exemplified on the Fourth.

The eatery owners describe lines as out the door and business as better than ever.

Mix Sweet Shop employees Doug Meils, 23, and Colleen Hanson, 21, estimate that the store made almost $4,000 on the Fourth, a significant increase from last year's Fourth earnings of around $3,000.

DuBois noted that this year brought in a lot more customers than previous years. Grilla' Bites made around the same amount in five hours this year that they did in nine hours in 2007. Between noon and 2 p.m. they served one customer every minute.

Sit-down restaurants that focus on fine dining also received a bump in business though not as much as the walk-in eateries did. Michelle Glass, the director of food and beverages for the Ashland Springs Hotel, estimated they received a 20 percent increase in business between the fourth, fifth and sixth.

Though restaurant-goers provided sizable increases in revenue they were ready to eat, not shop.

Many downtown stores did not see their profits as well nourished as the eateries did, nor did they expect them to be, based on previous years.

Pam Hammond, the co-owner of Paddington Station, which sells an 'eclectic' mix of goods, stated that they made as much on the Fourth as on any other summer day. She explained that they are secondary to what is going on in the park. In the five hours that they were open after the parade many came in simply to cool down and use the clean bathroom.

Conny Shadle, the owner of Bug-a-boo, a children's toy store and boutique, received "much less business than on a typical summer weekend." The City of Ashland recently required them to remove the display out front, which included a large stuffed iraffe. However, Shadle did not believe that this specifically affected their business on the Fourth.

There are more factors that influence overall profits than the type of business. Owners attributed the day of the week the Fourth falls on, the weather, the time of the parade, word of mouth, and their ability to advertise as playing a part.

Jennifer Clark, the owner of the new eatery Pita Pit, located down a passage off of East Main Street, did not know how much business to expect on the Fourth but she did know that it is hard to be seen. Petey, the Pita Pit mascot, who was out on the Fourth and in the parade helped.

"The locals have found us. The hard part is to get tourists to see us with our signage issues," commented Clark. "We are working on creative ways to advertise and our mascot is one of the ways we've come up with to separate ourselves."

Renee Hallesy, the co-owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, has observed the weather is a huge factor.

"This year, if I could have ordered the weather from Mother Nature I would have ordered what we got," said Hallesy. "It was perfect."

Restaurant owners are already looking forward to next year.

"It was so great," said DuBois. "Let's have another one!"

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