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Local businesses find ways to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of Riverside Fire

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Julie Cooper and Taylor Gibson have appreciated one anothers support while sharing a retail space during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Julie Cooper and Taylor Gibson initially weren't interested in sharing a retail space, but they now credit the collaboration with helping them stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Being partners, we don't have to do it alone," said Cooper, discussing the space on Broadway Street that Julie Cooper Designs shares with Gibson's Lennox Jai Boutique. 

The handmade jewelry and clothing retailers are just a few of Estacada's businesses that have weathered more than a year and a half of changes caused by the pandemic.

Cooper, who previously had been working out of her home and at a storefront in Portland prior to that, and Gibson, who previously was located in an appointment-only space on the second floor of the Mason Building, moved into their shared storefront in the heart of downtown Estacada in October 2020. Just weeks prior to that, the city was forced to evacuate because of the 140,000-acre Riverside Fire, which came within a half-mile of Estacada city limits.

"It's been an interesting road," Cooper said. "It was a moment of let's not overthink, let's just do it, see what happens and go from there. We had plans, but we were living in the moment."

Though the pandemic has caused many uncertainties, Cooper was confident their endeavor would work out.

"We knew it was a gamble, but we were confident we offered products people would truly like," she said.

Eleven months later, not only did their business survive, but it's also doing well.

"Taylor had a following, and I had a following, and our customers have cross-pollinated," Cooper said.

"The stars aligned," Gibson said. "It's been a really easy transition."

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Amanda Giordano of Blue Sky Rafting paddles while taking a group on a tour of the lower Clackamas River.

Riding the waves of change

Along with uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pete Giordano of Blue Sky Rafting also has been impacted by the closure of sections of the Mt. Hood National Forest and the upper stretch of the Clackamas River in the aftermath of the Riverside Fire.

"It's a new model with the upper section closed," he said. "There's been a lot of adapting."

As a result of the closure, Giordano added a trip on the Sandy River to create additional options for customers.

"We're local. We didn't want to do something nonlocal," he said. "We looked at how to bring people to this area."

Along with the new rafting trip, Giordano added additional elements to the already established offerings, such as telling participants about wildlife and the best stops to get out of the raft and swim.

"We've added some different things on the Clackamas River," he said. "Any river we do now, there's more stopping to get to know it. You can stop to wade and find cool things to do."

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Pete Giordano of Blue Sky Rafting enjoys taking participants on guided tours of the Clackamas River.

Previously, Giordano saw a lot of business from people coming from out of state. But because of COVID-19 related travel restrictions, he's seeing more locals.

Whether he's guiding an Estacada native or visitor on the river, he makes a point to encourage them to see what the town has to offer.

"I've been in Estacada for 20 years. We want to do our part to support the other businesses," he said. "We get done with trips, and we'll tell people what's in town so they don't just drive away."

Crafting community 

The flames from the Riverside Fire threatened to engulf many Estacada businesses — including Stone Circle Cider.

"When the Riverside Fire traveled 17 miles in a single day last Labor Day, we very quickly found our home, dreams and livelihood on the frontlines of it," said Dan Lawrence, one of the owners of the cidery on Southeast Kemp Road.

Lawrence and fellow owner John Hamblin credit the efforts of their neighbors, who remained behind to battle the flames, with saving their property and many others.

"They employed water tanks, construction equipment to cut fire lines, as well as spades and hand sprayers to fight the blaze. Their efforts, alongside improving weather conditions, saved houses and helped keep the fire from engulfing more of our neighborhood," Lawrence said. "We had always felt extremely fortunate and grateful to be a part of a neighborhood full of talented and interesting people who cared about everyone in the community. What we witnessed surpassed all of our expectations."

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - John Hamblin of Stone Circle Cider is grateful to his neighbors who helped fight the Riverside Fire last fall.

"I had never seen anything like that," Hamblin added. "They had the knowledge, equipment and the guts, which is a wonderful combination. I've always loved living in Estacada, but it made me feel more committed to the place. Seeing how everyone operated together was special."

Like many other businesses, Hamblin and Lawrence have had to navigate evolving COVID-19 safety guidelines, but Hamblin said they're fortunate that the majority of the seating at the tasting room is outside. Additionally, Stone Circle's team began offering delivery at the start of the pandemic.

"We're very lucky," Hamblin said. "I don't feel like we can complain too much when we have the outdoor seating. Most customers are overwhelmingly good and patient with us."

One element that has had a significant impact on Stone Circle Cider is the closure of Highway 224.

"The impact of that has been more detrimental than COVID," Hamblin said. "On Friday nights we used to get people coming to fill up growlers before going camping in the forest, but that's not happening anymore."

In spite of this difficulty, Hamblin is keeping a positive attitude moving forward.

"I would feel really bad being overly 'woe is me,'" he said, adding that he's grateful for the work his neighbors did to fight the fires last fall.

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