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Rogue Valley businesses put out the welcome mat

Southern Oregon residents could finally get a hair cut Friday or sit down and order a pint for the first time in two months, and many of those reopened businesses are cleaner and a bit more clinical than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tara Short, owner of Short Kutz Barber Shop and Salon in downtown Medford, said she was glad to have an income again, but the new state guidelines mean her business isn’t the hangout spot she said she’d spent years creating. Gone for now are the free beverages for clients and free candy for kids. Her shop’s video game area is closed.

“It was a really fun place,” Short said. “COVID-19 has kind of taken that community space away.”

People can’t spontaneously drop in to her shop on South Central Avenue under the new guidelines, and she can’t answer her phone in the middle of hair cuts. State law requires she keep her doors locked and take one appointment at a time. Families can wait in her shop, but they must keep together. Between customers, all surfaces are thoroughly sanitized.

The new disinfecting procedures and protective gear have forced her to raise prices from $18 for a men’s cut before the pandemic to $25 now. Short said she struggled with passing costs to her customers.

“I was happy being one of the cheapest shops in town,” Short said. “I grew up poor, I was homeless.”

Short said she had to empty her savings to equip the shop with necessary protective equipment, masks and disinfectants required under the law. She spent more when the disposable smocks she ordered from a supplier were delayed. As a workaround, she bought plastic sheeting at a hardware store to make her own smocks.

“At this point I’m eight weeks with zero income,” Short said.

Kyle Rickard, owner of Aspire Fitness Studio on West Sixth Street in Medford, said he also struggled without an income during the pandemic. He said he’s frustrated he never got the unemployment aid that was supposed to be made available for self-employed workers through the CARES Act, but he hasn’t heard back after applying in March for assistance.

“None of the systems were actually set up to process those applications,” Rickard said.

Most of his customers paid membership dues during the shutdown, which Rickard said was a “lifesaver” to cover his building’s rent.

Rickard’s downtown Medford gym, with roughly 200 members, opened at 4 a.m. Friday. By about 1:15 p.m., just nine people had used the facility. Before the pandemic, about 50 people per day typically used the 6,000-square-foot facility.

Two of Medford’s largest gyms, Village Fitness and Superior Athletic Club, were closed Friday, but they planned to open their doors Monday, according to posts on their Facebook pages.

The Rogue Valley Family YMCA in Medford has not set an opening date, but the nonprofit’s board will discuss opening plans at a Tuesday meeting.

Rickard said Thursday that gyms were one of the last businesses to get phase one guidance from the governor’s office, with some guidelines issued less than 24 hours before he reopened.

“It’s been a ride,” Rickard said.

Until he can move some cardio equipment to ensure the machines are six feet apart, he’s unplugged treadmills and elliptical machines. Rickard also removed free coffee and closed the showers at the gym, and he can no longer provide laundered towels.

About a dozen bottles of hydrogen peroxide were available for gym members to sanitize weights and other equipment, and Rickard said he and staff members will watch to make sure equipment is properly cleaned.

The bulk of Rickard’s business is personal training. Rickard said before each training he’ll ask the customer whether they’re feeling unwell, among other baseline questions. During training sessions Rickard stays six feet away, and keeps a bottle of peroxide on him to sanitize each piece of equipment as it’s used.

His gym will start classes Monday — technically “group personal trainings” — with no more than 10 participants at a time.

After months of filling growlers and the occasional to-go food item, Portal Brewing Co. in downtown Medford opened Friday with fewer seats and a Plexiglas barrier at the bar, according to co-owner Theresa Delaney.

Bar stools and several tables were removed to ensure customers can stay far enough apart in the small space at the corner of Sixth and Front streets.

“Customers in Medford are already being really good,” Delaney said. “They already know the spacing.”

To make sure she doesn’t get overwhelmed or backed up as she adapts to new sanitation requirements, Delaney said she simplified her menu to about four food items.

“It’s just scary being able to run it again after a break,” she said.

Delaney said she’s grateful for the support her business received during the shutdown. At one point, a customer drove to their brewing site in Reedsport to buy a keg from them.

“There was just so much love,” Delaney said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Tara Short, the owner of Short Kutz Barber Shop & Salon, cuts the hair of Landon Hoy, 10, of Medford, on Friday morning.{ }Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch