ASHLAND — An investment group has taken over ownership of Allyson's of Ashland, a 10-year-old kitchenware business with stores in Ashland and Bend.

The business also has laid off six employees, leaving 15 in each store.

The transfer of ownership to Neighborhood Gourmet Partners, an Ashland firm and the new majority owners, was amicable, leaving founders Steve and Allyson Holt sufficient resources to "go on with their lives," said Lynne Galligan, owner of NGP.

The group invested in Allyson's two years ago, chiefly for the purpose of expanding with stores in Bend and elsewhere, she said, adding, "not great timing, considering what happened with the economy."

The Bend store opened in February 2008 with "significant" additional capital from investors in Ashland — and both stores did well until the economy's collapse, Galligan said.

"Everything was good at the shops until October and November, and then Christmas was pretty bad, putting us in the position of needing further investment, which we got," said Galligan.

Allyson's, which also offered cooking classes and a deli, had grown past the break-even point in 2005, scored a significant sales increase for the 2007 holidays, then dropped 10 percent in 2008, almost exclusively in the holiday shopping months, she said.

Steve Holt said the transfer of the business was "a very peaceful thing" and that he will be going back to his former work in after-market auto advertising in New Jersey.

"There was definitely debt incurred. The expansion was very costly with financial challenges requiring cost reductions," said Steve Holt, noting that both stores are still profitable. "It was a viable opportunity to move on to new adventures and we wish the new management well."

As Neighborhood Gourmet Partners, Galligan and her son Jeff Parr two years ago bought minority interest in Allyson's and she became chief financial officer.

Holt said the two were experienced in the field and in business.

The transfer of the business to shareholders was one of several options, but, said Galligan, had it not been done, the store probably couldn't have survived.

"They put a lot of hard work into the store and did a fabulous job," Galligan said.

Allyson's will continue with the same inventory, hours and its popular Friday after-work wine tastings, she said.

Galligan noted that the Bend store offered other unforeseen stresses, including long travel time and absences for the Holts, who have two children.

"You say goodbye with a lump in your throat," Steve Holt said. "Changes can be exciting, though it's a little sad."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.