Oakridge residents fear business closures could foretell future ‘ghost town’

OAKRIDGE, Ore.– Some Oakridge residents are reflecting on the future of the city after a rash of business closures in the past few months.

Residents have taken notice as Subway, A&W, Rascals and other businesses closed their doors. Some say its the continuation of a decades-old decline that began as hundreds lost their jobs when area lumber mills began going under. 

As area businesses struggle, some said they fear that fulfilling basic needs may get too difficult to bear as entertainment, convenience and jobs hit the road.

“It is very hard to live here. It’s hard for the kids to live here. There’s nothing to do. We just need to focus on the community and focus on what it was when I was a kid here. It’s nothing like it was,” said long-time resident Jennifer Benham. “I think the city council needs to do something real quick or we are going to be a ghost town.”

According to Mayor Kathy Holston, Highway 58, where several businesses have recently closed, was built for the Oakridge of the past. 

“That’s the infrastructure that was left behind. It’s a challenge to fill that. I don’t think we will ever be that big again, nor do we want to be that big again,” she said.

Holston said the city council has been making a deliberate effort to attract the tourism industry in order to generate jobs and new business.

“In any community, you look to see what your positives are and you work to move towards your positives. Tourism is a positive thing in our community, but it’s not the only thing in our community and we are happy to embrace it all,” said Holston.

She also pointed to the city’s improvements to their industrial park as an effort to attract traditional industry and jobs, though attracting them may take more time. 

The Oakridge/Westfir Chamber of Commerce said that while some business closures are highly visible, new tourism businesses have been coming in steadily. Still, balancing current and new business is a group effort.

“We have to dig deeper and say ‘Can you help by patronizing the businesses that are still open? What are the open niches where people could come in and build a business you would support?'” said chamber of commerce president Lynda Kamerrer. 

Still, some residents question if they fit into what Oakridge is transforming into. 

“In order to support a community, even if you want to count the tourism, if you (don’t have any) businesses here to support tourism, people are just going to blow through town and not take a second look,” said resident Jim Benham.

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