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Local businesses feeling confident despite tourism decline

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ASHLAND, Ore. – Despite the pandemic forcing the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to make significant changes to its staff, local businesses in the area aren’t concerned about seeing smaller crowds.

Instead of crowds of tourists, local businesses in Ashland say they’ve been relying on community support to help keep their doors open. On the other hand, OSF does rely on tourists to fill seats in the theater. Throughout the course of the pandemic, OSF saw significantly less people buying tickets.

OSF announced on Wednesday that its executive director, David Schmitz, will be resigning. In addition, nearly 20 employees no longer have jobs with the festival. With a decline in tourism at OSF, the city of Ashland is also expected to see less people coming to visit. Even so, this isn’t a concern for local businesses.

“It really hasn't affected us,” said Rhonda Smith, owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. “Community support has been really great so we can't say enough about that."

It doesn’t go without saying that Smith hasn’t seen her fair share of business struggles. She says staffing is the biggest issue at the store right now. 

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory isn’t the only business who has the local community to thank. O’Ryans Irish Pub says its regulars helped keep the doors open over the course of the pandemic.

"We have our locals because we're known as the value bar,” said Michael Szelong, owner of O’Ryans Irish Pub. “As a result, we are not as much dependent on tourism as I would say some of the other bars and restaurants are. We've been sustained by the local community and our regulars so that's been very positive for us."

The pub is right across the street from OSF and Szelong says the theater definitely brings in a crowd every once in a while. The support from the local community, however, outweighs the business brought in from the theater crowds.

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