Photo by Claire Grant
Ashland is a hospitality town. With the Oregon Shakespeare festival bringing thousands of tourists in and out of this small town every year, we have developed an astounding infrastructure to support the tourism that keeps Ashland’s economically afloat. The effort of small businesses and restaurants to provide personalized experiences for our community is what makes Ashland so inviting, and this has been seriously challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of November 18, Oregon entered its second statewide restaurant shutdown. This shutdown does not allow customers to dine-in, but does allow for delivery and take-out services. Governor Kate Brown has assured the state this shutdown is temporary, with an expectation for the closures to end in two weeks. However, the employees of our beloved local eateries do not think this shutdown will be the last, nor will it only last two weeks.
Francisco Nunez, who has been a manager of Louie’s for more than 7 years, expressed that this latest shutdown has affected him as a single parent. “It’s hard to even try and find the time for a second job since kids are not going to in-person school, and I have to do classes at home with them…which just means a lot more budgeting, and a dwindling savings account,” Nunez said. This has encouraged him to apply for unemployment benefits, despite its notoriously slow processing times.
Maddalena Deorsola, who has lost all of her shifts at Louie’s due to the shutdown, expressed her frustration with the overloaded unemployment system. She has applied for unemployment, but has been “put on a ‘wait week’ and [has] not heard anything for the last five days,” making her uncertain on whether or not she will see any compensation in a timely fashion. She went on, “the process was understandably slow with the site continuously crashing due to the overwhelming amount of people all applying at the same time. Instead of thirty minutes, it took me six hours total, with several failed attempts in between,” which has forced her to find other financial solutions, such as finding a housemate.
Even restaurants outside of the usually busy plaza have felt the effects of the shutdown. Jenna Platt, a server at Oak Tree Bar and Grill, said that the closure has affected her greatly. While she still has limited shifts at the restaurant, she expressed concerns about working during the peak of the virus, saying “I feel like I’m as safe as I can be. It’s the people around me that think it’s a hoax that worries me.” She also shares concerns with other hospitality workers that this shutdown will not end in two weeks, nor will it be the last set of restrictions put in place to stop the virus.
As a restaurant worker myself, this shutdown is bittersweet. While the order is necessary for the state to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect essential workers and the public, the lack of income is devastating. My hospitality job has given me the freedom and flexibility to attend SOU full-time in pursuit of my bachelor’s degree, providing flexible hours and the opportunity to make tips that support me throughout the school year. With no significant hours available to provide me a living income, very little tips from the lack of table service, and an overloaded unemployment system, the future seems uncertain to say the least. Unfortunately, hospitality workers’ and local business owners’ hands are tied, and it seems to be a waiting game to see how long these restrictions will be held in place if the spread of the virus does not slow down.
However, there is a silver lining. Ashland’s small, vibrant community has come together to support small businesses by buying gift cards in bulk, ordering takeout and delivery when they can, and shopping local to show solidarity with the hospitality workers that are so essential to Ashland’s economic infrastructure.
This holiday season, the best way you can support your community is by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask in public, limiting contact with family members and friends, and supporting your locally owned and operated businesses to keep Ashland thriving through these difficult times.