Medford's Main Street can be a rough place for a business, but Clint Orchuk said he sees enough positive signs to move into one of a dozen vacant storefronts with an artisan coffee shop.
"We realize the challenge of doing business in downtown Medford given its history," he said. "At some point, we had to make the decision to invest and get going."
Orchuk, who has lived in Medford for five years with his family, said he's seen many businesses come and go on Main Street even after years of revitalization efforts.
In the core area along Main Street, from Bear Creek to Front Street, there are more than a dozen empty storefronts.
To the west of the railroad tracks, there are more empty stores, though that trend is about to improve.
Orchuk, who counted up to 20 empty stores a couple of years ago in the downtown area, said he's encouraged by Scan Design's decision to reopen at the corner of Main and Fir streets as well as plans for a new office complex scheduled to start construction across the street this summer around the Evergreen parking structure.
He said he's also encouraged by Trader Joe's and REI's move into the Medford, signaling the area can sustain a more upscale market.
All things considered, Orchuk thinks the timing's right for his business idea.
After conducting his own research, Orchuk said he thinks Medford can sustain a coffee shop that will have a more boutique style, similar to Noble Coffee Roasting or Case Coffee Roasters in Ashland. He's hoping to create a coffee shop — which will be named Limestone — that has a more urban feel and has enlisted some design help from Nora LaBrocca, who runs Downtown Market Co., a few doors down on Main Street.
Orchuk has applied for a $12,000 facade improvement grant from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency for the 1896 building with eclectic Victorian features. The Wilkinson-Swem building at 217 Main St. is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Orchuck said he anticipates opening by late June.
Sally Densmore, president of the Heart of Medford Association, said there are so many things happening in the downtown that will trigger a major transformation over the next two years and lessen the number of vacancies.
"Yes, we are having some turnover," she said. "It happens."
Densmore and others in the downtown were alarmed at the many empty store fronts to the west of the railroad tracks. Many of the vacancies were due to the closures of furniture stores, which fell on hard times when the home-buying market collapsed
Once the One West Main office is built along with the Jackson County health building a few blocks away, she said, the west end of Main Street will be transformed.
"It won't be this horrible no man's land in the downtown," she said. "Right now, it's like two downtowns."
As progress was being seen on the west end of Main Street, however, Densmore and others noticed more vacancies popping up in the east end.
She said she expects the vacancies will fill over time, particularly with so many projects in the works.
During the summer, students from the University of Oregon in Eugene will participate in a project to provide better signs for the downtown. She also believes an idea to create diagonal parking on Main Street will slow traffic down and entice more drivers out of their cars.
"I think there's so many developments happening in the next couple of years," she said.
Jim Curtis, one of the owners of On the Wall, recently moved from his Main Street location to 301 North Bartlett St. because he needed a bigger space.
He said he's not completely sure why Main Street can prove difficult for businesses.
"Some business owners say they are almost invisible," he said. "It's a little strange that after being there 30 years, people still say, 'Where are you?'"
Curtis said he's moved five times over the 31 years he's been in business. He's been on both the north and south side of Main Street, but his feeling is the south side is more invisible to motorists. He said motorists generally seem to look to the right as they travel down a street.
He's already noticed a difference at his new store, seeing an uptick in people because he is so visible from Fourth Street, though he said it's too early to tell if it will translate into more business.
Curtis said he chose his new location to be close to the downtown area, and he will have a front-row seat to watch construction of the newest park in The Commons this summer.
"I've seen a lot of changes and think the downtown is more viable than it was 30 years ago," said.
Pubs and restaurants have sprung up that have pumped life into the downtown, and he thinks that Main Street is ready for more change.
"The vibe is there for an urban kind of thing," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.