The city is taking steps to help local businesses make up for what they lost during a smoky summer that reddened skies and bottom lines.
The city is offering free parking in the public parking garage on Hargadine Street, adjacent to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, on Saturdays and Sundays through the end of December, according to City Administrator Kelly Madding.
“The city’s goal has been, in this case, to help city merchants try to make up for the losses of this summer,” Madding said.
The city also donated $10,000 to increase distribution of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce’s annual coupon books to more potential shoppers.
Chamber Membership and Business Development Director Dana Preston said some local businesses saw a decrease of 20 to 40 percent in business this summer. The Ashland Outdoor Store is closing after 25 years due to the decline in visitors during weeks of smoke-filled skies.
Kelly Jean Hammond, a co-owner of Paddington Station and its sister stores, said at least four other stores and art galleries in the downtown area are going out of business this year, including Renaissance Rose and Small Change.
“Anecdotally, what we heard from the Chamber of Commerce was that people were out in Ashland after those (coupon) books were sent out using them, that businesses they’d heard from have seen an uptick in people shopping,” Madding said.
Preston said the businesses in the coupon book pay for producing the book. Last year about 8,500 were distributed; this year, with the city’s help, more than 28,000 were distributed to all of Ashland and Talent, and some areas in Phoenix and Medford.
“It allowed us to increase our distribution by three times,” Preston said. “We are all really excited about the growth we had this year.”
Preston said the other new programs this holiday season are not a direct reaction to the smoke impact. She said getting people to shop locally has always been a core value of the chamber, especially since the boom of online shopping.
“We want to look at different ways to support the industry year-round,” Preston said.
Other shop local activities this holiday season from the chamber include such events as:
Saturday Christmas Carols from 2:30-5:30 p.m. downtown;
A storefront window decorating contest; and
Shop in your PJ’s night from 4-7 p.m. today, Dec. 14. Families are invited to come to town to shop in their PJs. Participating local businesses will stay open a little later abd provide something festive such as cookies or hot chocolate.
“Shopping local throughout the whole year is important, it’s a greener way of shopping and really, it’s supporting the community. It’s how we’re able to offer better paying jobs with great benefits and we use that support to give back to the community by donating to local non-profits,” Hammond said. “I think in total we (Paddington stores) may have donated about $140,000 back into the community.”
“That doesn’t happen when you shop at Amazon or WalMart, and it’s great because it’s the people we live next to. When Ashland acts like a community, that’s when we’re strongest.”
Madding said the revenue from the parking garage pays for the downtown parking program such as maintenance of meters, the garage and payment for the parking enforcement officers.
She said funds from the economic development program will cover the estimated $3,600 loss in parking revenues this month.