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Trail restaurant closes but keeps events

TRAIL — The economics of tourism in the Upper Rogue led to the closing of the Rogue River Lodge, its owners say.

Owners Anne and Lee Kimball will continue operating the accompanying Riverside Event Center at the lodge, on Highway 62 just upstream from the Tiller-Trail Highway turnoff. The dining room and lounge closed earlier this month, and the lodge sign is due to come down before Thanksgiving. The Kimballs were the 80-year-old landmark's eighth owners.

"It was a business decision," said Lee Kimball, whose craftsmanship resuscitated the failing operation six years ago. "We're going to convert the main building into our home, and remove the parking lot so it will look like a house instead of a restaurant."

The Kimballs acquired the "run-down dump" in September 2009, then embarked on a million-dollar overhaul before re-opening the lodge 11 months later, on Aug. 18, 2010. It became the largest private employer in the Upper Rogue region.

"When you look at it from a business standpoint, one of the things that made it attractive then was that it was grandfathered in. There wasn't a likelihood, given cost to develop something of this nature, to have further competition," he said. "This was our best business summer yet with 18 weddings. But in the winter it flattens out and you've got to look at the numbers; personally I haven't taken a paycheck in five years."

At its height, the lodge employed 25, but Kimball said restaurant industry challenges, from increasing labor costs to payroll taxes and insurance, have squeezed profit margins.

"We are in a regional area that is seasonal, and although we have enjoyed a significant number of successful events throughout the summer, the profitability of the business is not sufficient to offset our fixed overhead expenses year-round," he said. "We had a great staff, good people and they gave it their all."

In many ways, the 1.5-acre property is better suited for weekend events and private getaways than a dinner date or Sunday afternoon destination.

From driving time to the region's propensity for summer wildfires, the economics became ever more challenging. While getting to the Rogue River Lodge from Medford might be a 30-minute drive on paper, Highway 62 is generally clogged with traffic from Interstate 5 to Eagle Point. Along with long stops at traffic lights, the journey easily can take twice as long. Even the bread-and-butter tourist season was a challenge in recent years because of fires that closed roads or dissuaded visitors from making the trip in 2013 and again in 2015.

"If you watched the national news," Kimball said, "it looked like half the state of Oregon was on fire; it did have a negative impact."

The private grounds along the river, capable of handling weddings and parties for 250, will be available starting next spring. The primary difference from the past, Kimball said, is that food service will have to be brought in by caterers.

"We're maintaining our liquor license," he said. "So we will be able to have alcohol on site."

A 640-square-foot cabin, complete with fireplace and able to handle up to four people, is available for $105 per night in the off-season and $165 per night during the summer, although weekends are blocked off to accommodate events.

The Kimballs retained their furniture, linens, flatware and plate ware, and maintain a list of caterers, musicians and photographers. The telephone number remains 541-878-2555, the email is rogueriverlodge@gmail.com and reservations for the lodge can be made through VRBO.com. 

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

 

Owners of the Rogue River Lodge will turn it into their home and take out the parking lot, but continue hosting weddings and other events on the grounds.