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Things are looking up for downtown shops

Mail Tribune

Some might have called Richard Wright's jump into business last October a leap of faith.

But as far as the former auto and truck parts inventory controller is concerned, it was as good a time as any to go into business in downtown Medford, renting space to antique dealers.

"My wife and I did this as a hobby for a while and it's progressed into a more enjoyable hobby," Wright says. "We're across from (Alba) park and the library and in a historical location."

So was 2001 the optimal time to launch a business in downtown Medford, or would it have been better to have passed?

It depends on whom you ask.

In interviews with several owners, most start-ups were on track, although some were purposely low-key.

Among the enterprises opening in 2001 were three restaurants, a pair of antique outlets, a couple of high-tech outfits along with lingerie and jewelry shops. A counseling service and repossession agency also entered the downtown scene.

Some of the entrepreneurs wanted to augment their income, while most were hoping to pay the family bills.

Wright had been a vendor for several years at the previous antique mall on the ground floor of the Medford Hotel and has an interest in another antique location in Medford and one in Grants Pass.

The Wrights rent out space and collect a percentage when items are sold.

"We've really been doing pretty good," he says. "We've got at least a good dozen vendors. Sept. 11 didn't help a lot, but actually we've done quite well. With everything going on, it's been fairly stable - maybe because we're the new kid in town."

Carolyn Prentiss and her husband Craig Shaw opened Twig Home & Garden just west of U.S. Bank in June. The venture follows similar efforts in Etna and Yreka, Calif., and later Ashland, which they sold two years ago.

"We needed some income and thought this would be a fun way to do it," says Prentiss, who deals in vintage and antique furnishings. "We have a little more garden accent than before."

She says heavy westbound traffic is advantageous, but it often takes drivers several trips past before they become customers.

"It was not a great year to open in

Medford," Prentiss says. "The recession definitely made itself felt."

Sonja Tramontana was already occupied with a sewing business when the area's only yarn shop closed.

"I have been a passionate stitcher all my life and I couldn't stand not having a cross-stitching and yarn shop here," she says. "I wasn't in the financial position to do it, but I decided to go for it."

On May 7, Middleford Alley Yarn Shoppe opened without a great deal of fanfare and a relatively small inventory.

"Even now, people probably think we don't have as much as they like," Tramontana says. "But I wanted people to know there would be a yarn shop. We're here and we're working on it. It's given my shop manager a gentle break-in period where she's not inundated. It's going to be my retirement, when I don't want to sew any more."

The only real glitch in the plan was a business credit card granted to the Middle Fordalley Yam Show.

"You just gotta crack up when think about it," she says. "When you're in the midst of business travails, you look at that card and can't help but laugh."

Linda Pickle saw an opportunity after Safeway Inc. closed its West Main store.

The proprietor of the Lit'l Dill's Bar and Grill at 125 W. Main St., says customer comments led her to expand next door with a convenience market, carrying everything but fresh meat products.

"It was a good year," Pickle says. "I'm staying afloat with word-of-mouth advertising. My cash flow has been taking the excess from one business and moving it to another - that's how the market got going."

Lightsource Creations, a graphic arts firm, went into business last September.

It's been a tough go of sorts for owner Graham Wilmott, who did well for himself as a free-lancer in the Los Angeles market for a dozen years before moving to Arizona. When eight hot summers induced a move to the Rogue Valley, Wilmott settled on downtown Medford, where he produces brochures, corporate identities and Giclee, a digital printmaking technology for artwork.

"It's been very hard," says Wilmott, who put 30,000 miles on his car drumming up work between here and Portland last year. "Everybody in this town has a budget and isn't prepared to go over that budget. We'll do the job because we want to get the work. Even the historical society, which has quite a high budget, doesn't like to use money for anything it doesn't have to."

Sonja Tramontana, owner of the Middleford Alley Yarn Shoppe, opened her store this year in downtown Medford. Most recent entrants to the business scene downtown say they have weathered tough economic times well. - Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli