Seeking safe sectors in a sinking ship

With soaring fuel prices, record number foreclosures, a soft housing market and declining stock prices, things aren't looking good. However, not everyone is being negatively impacted by the recent economic downtown.

As the old saying goes, only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. And if you're in the funeral business, people aren't typically downgrading from a $15,000 coffin to a pine box just because the economy is bad, said Tim Simonsen, manager of Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home in Ashland.

He said most of his clients in the Ashland area are older and fairly affluent.

"Plus, they grew up in the Depression era," Simonsen said. "They have a tendency to plan for these things so they won't burden their families. Death is something you can't escape. I mean, you know it's going to happen."

Cigarettes and booze are also two areas that don't seem to be terribly affected by the bleak economy.

Jazzmin Parker, manager of Puff's smoke shop on Ashland Street, said she probably had one of the most stable businesses in town.

"It's kind of unfortunate, but this is a business that caters to an addiction, and people tend to cut back in other areas before they'll give up their smokes," she said.

Parker said this summer was one of the slowest they'd ever had in the nine years they've been open, "but we're still having a really good summer."

Ashland Liquor Store on Lithia Way is seeing a slight increase, said manager Don Cashwell. "For the year overall, it's up, but not compared to other years in the past."

Cashwell said it would be a true sign of a bad economy if people quit drinking, but they rarely do.

"The trend I'm seeing right now is people switching from high end liquor to a cheaper brand," he said. "So people compromise on quality, rather than stop drinking. It's kind of a funny thing to watch."

Lorn Razzano, owner of Ashland Wine Cellar, said he's actually seeing his numbers go up.

"We do get some tourists, but the great majority of our customers are steadfast and loyal locals," he said. "I think the biggest reason the current economy hasn't hurt us is because people in this town see the value of great wine. And we offer fantastic wines in the $15 and under range."

New home construction and remodeling jobs in Ashland have plummeted this spring and summer, with one contractor describing the situation as "the worst I've ever seen it;" but Robert Mayers, who owns Adroit Construction, said, "Our backlog is larger than it's ever been."

Adroit signs can be seen at commercial construction sites throughout Jackson County, including the Medford Airport terminal and tower and schools in Ashland and Medford.

"We do both public and private jobs," said Mayer. "But another secret to our success is that we travel, whereas our competitors stay in the valley and focus mostly on homes."

He also belongs to a building exchange list that alerts him to new projects to bid on.

Mayers started Adroit in 1979, when the United States experienced another housing crash with skyrocketing interest rates.

"It was the absolute worst time to enter into the construction business," he said. "Our strategy back then was to accept jobs and travel to places nobody else wanted to work."

The hard work paid off, and now Adroit Construction is a household name in Southern Oregon.

Mayers said he thinks the housing market will turn around again.

"Probably in a year or so," he said. "But it will turn."

Reach reporter at 482-3456 ext. 226 or .

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