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Renaissance Rose closing Plaza store

After a long struggle, longtime fun shopping spot Renaissance Rose will close its Plaza store after the Halloween shopping rush, shifting inventory to its smaller costume store on A Street, which has operated since 2015.

Owner Ann Wilton has posted big stickers in her Plaza window, blaring, “Sale. Closing. Amazon is killing us. Smoked out last year. Can’t afford the rent.”

She is reducing inventory with a 20% to 40% off sale in October.

The rent on her 8,000-square-foot store, scaled to go up every year, will sail above $10,000 a month in 2020. Her lease runs through the end of next year and, she says, she can’t get out of it, so it’s cheaper to let it sit idle than to pay the costs of doing business and keep it open. However, she is open to subleasing it for the year, she notes.

Wilton said some landlords “are under the mistaken impression that the Plaza is the Golden Triangle, but it’s not that way anymore for the rents they charge, especially with how OSF (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) has been suffering. That really put a decline on profit for all the businesses downtown.”

However, says Wilton, “Amazon is the big one. People come in and see something they want and take a pic of it and go online and order it. It’s a problem for lots of businesses.”

Shiela Burns, owner of Bloomsbury Books on the main drag, says, “Amazon has made a big difference, and we all have to adjust. Nothing is going to bring us back to pre-Amazon days, although the locals are great at picking up business during Christmas time.”

Burns and others said they took a big hit in August this year because tourists, expecting a repeat of 2018 smoke (it didn’t happen), stayed away. But, said Bloomsbury owner Karen Chapman, OSF’s decision to stage some plays at presumably smoke-free Ashland High School “hurt the town because who is going to pay $150 to see a play at a high school?”

Since 2015, Wilton says, she has “groomed” her A Street store to grow steadily in profit each year, as it serves loyal town shoppers. Marcia Frey, owner of 50-year-old Rare Earth at 340 A St., made a similar shift in 2010, moving from the touristy Plaza and, to a smaller store and lower rent, focusing on locals, and racking up steady profit increase each year.

“Downtown had a lot of ebbs and tides with the flux of tourists coming in and the parking,” says Frey. “The Ashland energy and pace has changed a lot. I wanted a whole ‘nother concept, giving locals their store back, with good parking and packing it floor to ceiling with stuff you don’t find online and which is a good deal. Ashlanders love a good deal.”

As a result, Frey says, “We didn’t take a hit from the smoke last year, and we don’t take a hit from Amazon because they don’t carry what we have. The Plaza relies on tourism heavily, so they do take a hit and, once you interrupt the momentum of their shopping habits, it’s difficult to get it back. The smoke interrupted that, and so did the city’s road and Plaza repairs.”

Several downtown storefronts are now vacant: Ashland Outdoor Store, Unicorn Gifts & Toys, and Small Change Children’s Store. The former Unicorn space, says a window sign, will soon open as North & East Company, Local Goods and Oriental Antiques. Pelindaba Lavender, a new store last spring, was papered up all summer, but it was for a change in ownership and has reopened with the same mission.

Chapman noted there’s a pick up in tourism in the fall because Ashland is getting repute for having “fall colors,” just like New England. However, merchants mentioned that use of the term “smoke season” for Ashland impacts confidence in vacationing here and should be avoided.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Renaissance Rose owner Ann Wilton styles mannequins in the window of the new location on A street.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Renaissance Rose owner Ann Wilton goes through ‘60’s costumes in the back of the new location on A street.