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  • Howiee's on Front expands to Main

    Two venues are connected by shared courtyard area
  • He's seen good times and bleak days.
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  • He's seen good times and bleak days.
    David Hawkins just keeps plugging away, avoiding debt and serving up the hot plates and the cold beers on Front Street.
    With a return of relatively strong sales at his downtown Medford bar and grill, the owner of Howiee's has expanded and now fronts Main Street as well.
    "I've been here 20 years, a nice chunk of my life," Hawkins said. "This place has been in constant transition, it's never stayed the same more than two or three years. I always end up redecorating or changing something. I can't seem to leave the place alone."
    The latest move, opening the space at 111-115 E. Main St., adds more than 2,000 square feet and brings Howiee's to 7,000 square feet overall. The two spaces' back doors are connected by a shared courtyard area.
    "The rent was real good at this time," he said. "The space was available and connected to what I already had. It finally gives me extra space for special events I've been wanting to do — line dancing, dances, bands and weddings."
    Howiee's decor reflects Hawkins' eclectic tastes.
    "I've got autographed pieces and guitars — I just got one signed by Merle Haggard," he said.
    Two decades ago, the proprietor and his wife were the only employees. Today there are 28 on the payroll.
    "The best of times was 2006-2007," he said. "Everyone was living on credit and spending money on inflated housing prices. Then everything collapsed. I had been here long enough — and I survived — basically because I didn't owe any money to anybody."
    Nonetheless, the employee count dipped to a dozen.
    "You do what you can do at the time," Hawkins said.
    The survivors of the Great Recession are seeing their customer traffic rebuild.
    "Everything is coming back around downtown, in general — but not all the way back."
    Like the establishment's walls and ceiling, the menus change. Cajun is hot now.
    Howiee's earned first place in the "Best Taste" category during the weekend's Smudge Pot Stroll in the Pear Blossom Festival and picked up second place awards for "Best Pairing" and "People's Choice."
    One change in the past two decades has been the growing presence of micro-brew beer.
    "Northwest craft brewing has made a name for itself," Hawkins said. "It's tough to get a new one off the ground — finding shelf space and tap handles and it's still such a small percentage of the market.
    "We've kept Walkabout (produced in Central Point) for years. There are three or four that are permanent, the rest we change in and out."
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.
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