Jack Garcia of Ashland checks out Ashland's last downtown phone booth, which sits outside the public library. Pay phones have largely disappeared because of the rise in cellphone usage. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell photo - Bob Pennell

Ashland's last pay phone hangs on

"I'm at a pay phone trying to call home.

All of my change, I spent on you."

— Song lyrics to "Payphone" by Maroon 5

Ashland has a solitary pay phone booth left downtown after the city removed a booth near the Black Swan Theatre and Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

Merchants had complained that the booth was unsightly, prompting the city to have it taken out earlier this year.

That leaves a pay phone outside the Ashland public library as the sole remaining booth.

It still works, although the receiver hook is broken off, causing the receiver to continually emit a forlorn off-the-hook warning buzz. Passersby routinely stop to see whether they can silence the disembodied noises emanating from the phone but find there's nothing they can do.

The near-extinction of downtown Ashland's pay phones is a local chapter in a national story. Pay phones are an endangered species nationwide.

It's no mystery what's led to this: Pay phones have been largely replaced by cellphones. The United States had more than 2 million pay phones in 2000, but now has about 425,000, CNN reported in late 2012.

Residents and tourists walking in downtown Ashland recently had mixed views on the disappearance of pay phones.

"I wish there were more around," said Amy Cook of Jacksonville. "You never know when you're going to need it. Ashland should keep at least one. I've been traveling sometimes and needed one."

Without pay phones, if people need to make calls but don't have their cellphones, they have to ask to borrow other people's phones, Cook said.

"That is a good way to meet people," she said, laughing.

Applegate resident Joanna Davis said people might not be able to use pay phones even if more were around.

"No one knows phone numbers because they're all stored in their cellphones," she said.

However, Davis said, some pay phones should be kept in place.

"You don't have to have them on every corner, but you should have some," she said.

Barry Kaplan, who was visiting from New Haven, Conn., said he has a cellphone and it never occurs to him to use a pay phone.

"I don't even have a land line at home anymore," Kaplan said.

He said he couldn't remember the last time he had used a pay phone.

Ashland resident Nick McKernan said he used a pay phone about two months ago.

"Personally, I always find them helpful. When I didn't have a cellphone, I would rely on those," he said. "It's naive to assume that everyone has a cellphone. It doesn't make sense to take away a phone booth."

An Ashland woman who declined to give her name said Clark Kent changed into his Superman costume in a phone booth, but kids today don't understand that cultural reference.

She also said she couldn't remember the last time she had used a pay phone.

"Occasionally, your cellphone loses juice and you think, 'What would I do?' But times are just changing," she said.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or

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