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Artisans market extended beyond holiday season

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved a request last Wednesday to extend the Calle Guanajuato season through Feb. 28, which would keep the Lithia Artisans Market open through and beyond the holiday season.

Activities on the Calle typically run from mid-March through mid-November.

“Due to COVID-19, customers seek more ways to take dining opportunities outside, and so do restaurants, as it does increase their capacity,” Recreation Superintendent Rachel Dials said. “We want to give our businesses and restaurants a hand up — and our artisans.”

This summer, as restaurants took advantage of outdoor dining space, Lithia Artisans Market vendors spread along the Calle and on the front Lithia Park lawn.

APRC staff supported the extension of the Calle season in response to the ongoing economic struggle facing vendors and restaurateurs in Ashland, Dials said.

Artisans relinquished half to three-quarters of their normal summer square-footage to accommodate restaurant spacing on the Calle this year, according to Artisans Market Manager Marcus Scott. Despite the challenges, he said this year has been great for networking and strong communication between vendors, restaurants, the city, Chamber of Commerce and the parks department.

Looking back on the Ashland Summer Celebration, Scott said he considered the series a success, though “not a raging success” given the nature of circumstances facing businesses and markets today.

“People were able to come out and have little lunches and have some Martolli’s pizza in the front area, have picnics, throw the Frisbee, throw the football — do things that seemed a little bit normal during this season,” Scott said.

Even without a Green Show drawing tourists downtown, more locals turned out searching for activities close to home — a welcome surprise, Scott said. Boosted social media advertising helped with the effort to bring new people into Ashland for the market each weekend, which supported restaurants, as well.

When COVID-19 hit, Scott’s initial projections estimated revenues from the summer season would be half or less compared to previous years, with half as many vendors. However, even with half his normal vendor crew, revenues hovered around 50%-70%. With an extended season, he hopes to keep positive momentum going for both business owners and customers. Any opportunity to bridge community and economic vitality is helpful, he said.

Holiday events, trade shows and other moneymaking time slots in the year for artisans have largely been canceled due to the public health crisis, contributing to the need for Ashland vendors to stay open and outside through the winter, Scott said. About two months of an extended market season is roughly equivalent financially to a typically large seasonal event, such as the Ashland Armory Christmas Faire.

He emphasized that everyone on his crew is masked up and adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols.

“Rather than just fold up the tent and put us away and sit on our hands for an extended period of time, we’d love to have the opportunity to be out there,” he said.

Scott considered using four standing propane heaters to keep the market area warm for visitors and vendors, but the commission raised some concerns about people congregating around heating units and the climate impact of using propane.

Commissioner Julian Bell pushed for electric heating systems during the extended winter season, which was incorporated into the commission’s approval.

Market vendors will supervise physical distancing and bundle up appropriately if heating systems are kept on low in limited areas, Scott said.

If this pilot season is successful, Scott said he would explore the idea of keeping the market open for an extended period in future years. Early indicators of success have already begun to show.

Having the market on the Lithia lawn has been effective as far as “environmental policing,” Scott said, referencing an Ashland police officer’s comment about displacing inappropriate activity by creating positive uses in public spaces.

Commissioner Rick Landt moved to approve the request for an extended season, with a condition that APRC staff develop a plan by Nov. 1 for equipment removal off the Calle in the case of a flood.

Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black said businesses leasing the area should watch out for flood warnings.

“If we don’t know something is coming, we don’t have an opportunity to get down there and warn them, then we have a bunch of furniture floating down to the bottom of the Calle, I don’t want it to be Ashland Parks and Recreation’s fault,” Black said.

A plan in case of flooding around the Calle will be assembled in the next few weeks, Dials said.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings The Artisans Market downtown Saturday morning.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings The Artisans Market downtown Saturday morning.