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Businesses in West Linn's historic Willamette district getting back on their feet

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Patrons sit outside the Willamette Ale and Cider House Friday, May 29. The cider house opened for customers to eat and drink on the premesies the previous day.West Linn's Historic Willamette district along Willamette Falls Drive is typically bustling with shoppers and restaurant goers in the spring and summer. But for the past two months, the business district has been abnormally quiet — save for the streetscape construction.

Now, after quarantine restrictions that closed many businesses and limited restaurants to takeout, life is slowly starting to return to Willamette. The state approved Clackamas County's phase one reopening plan May 22, and it went into effect the following day.

Phase one allows for businesses like restaurants, bars and hair salons, among others, to reopen under specific guidelines.

While several restaurants and bars remained open for takeout after Gov. Kate Brown gave her executive order March 23 , one West Linn favorite, the Willamette Ale and Cider House (WACH), shut its doors until phase one went into effect.

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Tony Chay fills a to-go can with Queen Orchard cider. WACH Owner Ann Chay said safety for customers and employees was the biggest concern that led to WACH's closing. With so much still uncertain, WACH felt the safest way forward was to close the restaurant.

But with the restaurant closed, Chay said the business was able to refocus back to its original purpose: making and selling cider.

Chay is also the owner of West Linn-based beverage company 7Bev, which brews its own cider, Queen Orchard, on site at the WACH.

Chay said now the restaurant feels more like the bottleshop to showcase Queen Orchard Cider that she originally intended when the Ale and Cider House opened.

While shut down, the WACH and Queen Orchard crew shifted gears to canning cider to get it ready to be sold in stores. Chay and her staff, which had to be reduced when the WHAC closed, also refocused work to 7Bev's 65-acre farm in south West Linn, which Chay plans to soon be an orchard, winery and event space.

After several weeks with the doors closed, WACH reopened in late April for three days a week for people to come in and take cider, beer and wine to-go.

As Clackamas County entered phase one of the state's opening guidelines , WACH was able to take advantage of the ease of restrictions, which allow limited dine-in seating at restaurants and bars.

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Dan and Raandi Otto enjoy drinks outside the newly re-opened Willamette Ale and Cider House.On May 28, WACH opened outdoor seating for people to eat and drink in partnership with Bellagio's Pizza, which has a West Linn location just down the road from WACH. Patrons can now get Bellagio's pizza, cheese sticks and wings while at WACH, Chay explained.

WACH for now is keeping its three-day-a-week schedule and is open from 3-7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Chay said ever since the WACH partially reopened, the community has been very supportive.

"We've been getting a lot of phone calls of people wanting to come eat, drink and sit," Chay said.

The Ale and Cider House is not the only Willamette business thankful for the lighter restrictions of phase one. The district's two salons, Tousled and Rubia Hair, also recently reopened.

Salons were deemed non-essential businesses in Brown's initial executive order and forced to close.

Rubia Hair Owner Amy Blondheim said the nine weeks of closure were rough but the salon survived thanks to the support of loyal customers who either paid for gift cards or paid for appointments in advance.

Blondheim said she applied for all forms of financial help the government has offered during the pandemic, but it amounted to nothing.

"If it wasn't for my clients helping me, I don't even know, my house would be for sale right now," she said.

Since Rubia opened back up she said that some clients are eager to come back and get their hair done, but others are still cautious about coming out and have decided to cancel or further postpone their appointments.

With revenue significantly down, Blondhiem said her biggest concern is paying rent for the salon.

To protect stylists and clients, the salon no longer has a waiting area, stylists are wearing masks, stations are spread out, stylists are alternating days to limit the number of people in the business and services have been partially limited.

"Basically every bell and whistle is gone," Blondheim said.

Morrow's Flowers and Hometown Sports on Willamette Falls Drive are also open for business.

Allium and Lark Cafe, which have the same owners, also reopened with limited seating after being restrained to takeout for the past several weeks.

After several weeks of closure immediately following Brown's order in March, Lark Cafe reopened with a to-go window for customers to stop by and grab coffee, tea, pastries and breakfast or lunch sandwiches.

Lark Manager Ashlin Vandermolen said that while just the window was open, Lark saw maybe two thirds of its regular patronage.

"It was definitely a slowdown but we were able to get a small business loan and last a couple of months," Vandermolen said.

Since the cafe reopened for people to dine-in customers May 27, Vandermolen said she's been pleasantly surprised with how busy it has been. Though she noted the cafe still isn't seeing its usual number of customers.

"We've been able to stay connected with our customer base and it's been really fun to see people as they come in after being closed for a month," she said.

Vandermolen noted that while the cafe spread out its seating to allow for adequate distance between customers, there's still about 75% of the original capacity because some larger furniture was moved and outdoor seating was added.

Vandermolen said every now and then there is a little bit of anxiety from customers about being back out in public again, but overall people seem confident about the protective measures in place.

Other restaurants in the Willamette area like J. Willy's Public House, Lil Coooperstown Bar and Grill and La Fiesta Mexican Kitchen are also open for socially-distanced dining.

Still some restaurants in the area, like Nineteen33 Taproom, have opted to stay with the takeout model for the time being.

In a social media post, Nineteen33 announced it would not be opening its dining area at the moment.

"Our focus remains on maintaining the health and safety of our staff and customers," the post read. "We will be monitoring the re-opening of Clackamas County closely and will adjust our business model as we feel safe."

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