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Things are looking up for local businesses, which were hindered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Edge Family Fitness, like other Wilsonville gyms, has transitioned back to pre-pandemic operations.

Throughout the 15-month period of restrictions, closures and widespread fear about the effects of COVID-19, some public-facing Wilsonville businesses were teetering on the precipice of insolvency.

In fact, more than a few told Pamplin Media Group that they likely would not have survived without help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

While challenges continue to fester, the mood appears to have brightened.

This is because such businesses no longer face state-guided restrictions that limited capacity and required mask wearing for customers and employees, among other rules.

"People are excited," said Jason Brandt, the CEO of the Wilsonville-based Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association. "The amount of detail within the rules they've had to follow as part of the approach to mitigating the spread of COVID, the fact those rules have been rescinded and they can work with their own private policies, the overarching theme is a feeling of relief and excitement that they are in control again of their own destiny even if challenges feel enormous for many of them, particularly those workforce access issues."

A common refrain among business owners is the sense that customers are much more comfortable inside their facilities now that they no longer have to wear masks. Plus, hypervigilance about following safety protocols like continual cleanings and tensions about the need for masks are no longer relevant.

"No one is fighting it," Vanguard Brewing Owner Don Anderson said about the previous mask requirement. "Everyone is happy they're out having beers and food sitting in the sun enjoying it. People who want to wear masks are wearing it and people who aren't, aren't and everyone is getting along."

The lifting of capacity limits has led to an increase in business. Bruce Burgoyne, the owner of Boone's Junction, said that with capacity jumping from about 12 to 50, he has seen as many as 20-25 customers inside at once. And that equates to more money to keep the business running and pay employees. Similarly, Anderson said indoor areas were regularly full at Vanguard.

"I'm doing really good business right now," Burgoyne said. "People are wanting to get out and they are. It's noticeable."

Though masks are no longer required, Anderson also said his entire staff is vaccinated and that they're continuing to keep things sanitary.

"That's normal for us, being a brewery," he said.

Gyms have also returned to relative normalcy. Edge Family Fitness can hold full capacity and has reintroduced full-contact basketball games and saunas. Assistant Manager Dominic Eave said membership has increased fairly significantly over the last week and a half.

"More people are definitely going back to the gym due to confidence with the safety here, and also without the need to wear a mask in the club," he wrote via text message.

Dave Fife, with Crossfit Wilsonville, said membership was cut in half during the pandemic and that it is starting to trickle back, though it isn't all the way back to where it was at the beginning of March 2020. He added that at one point, the 100,000-square-foot gym was limited to just six people whereas class sizes reached upwards of 20.

"Everybody who has come back, the vibe has been great. Everyone has been really happy and excited. There's a lot of enthusiasm right now," Fife said.

Brandt said ORLA is in the process of conducting a survey to assess how business revenue has picked up since restrictions were lifted. He said many Oregonians have disposable income, which is helping businesses. However, he added that bolstering child care and forcing people to look for a job in order to receive unemployment benefits, as well as reducing benefits, will be necessary for fuller recovery. Employee shortages are a problem he's heard from many business representatives.

"Those two things will help recovery in the industry," Brandt said. "If we can solve the workforce access issue … and (provide) the child care needed for people to return to work, we'll be taking steps in the right direction."

Burgoyne, for his part, said hiring help is next to impossible right now.

"No one wants to go back to work right now," he said.

For helping his business reach the other side of COVID-19 restrictions, Anderson thanked the local community.

"We're very grateful to the community for the support they showed us through this," he said. "We definitely would not have made it without people buying cans and growlers to go. We appreciate that."

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