voices from the front

Caught in the coronavirus doldrums

Carrie Lewis, CEO of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, says the popular Newport attraction awaits the governor's OK to reopen: "Our over-sanitized hands are tied."

Visitors to the Oregon Coast Aquarium have made it one of the most popular attractions on the entire Oregon Coast. Opened in 1992, it was named one of the top 10 aquariums in the country by Parade magazine only one year later. When it was chosen to rehabilitate Keiko, the orca star from the film Free Willy, its popularity boomed.

But in 2000, two years after Keiko was transferred to Iceland for release in the wild, the nonprofit seemed doomed. The aquarium was $4 million short on the tab for its new $11 million, 1.3-million-gallon Passages of the Deep exhibit, and it was unclear if the aquarium would survive. But the community – local and beyond – rallied, and in recent years the aquarium again has thrived.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Then the virus hit, and Newport’s most popular attraction and a crucial component of the coast culture, struggles. We talked with aquarium president and CEO Carrie Lewis about the future.

When did the aquarium close?

Lewis:  On March 16. It was the right thing to do at the time because things were ramping up. That’s right around the time Gov. Kate Brown put out her mandate for businesses to close. We were in lockstep with all the other zoos and aquariums around the country. Unfortunately, it was right before spring break. It was a huge hit.

Any idea when you’ll be able to reopen?

The anticipated opening date remains unknown. We’re really concerned. Because Lincoln County is on the “Watch List,” we can’t open until Lincoln County gets into Phase 2. I am appealing to the governor to get a redesignation of our status, which is indoor/outdoor entertainment facility. The Oregon Zoo, the High Desert Museum in Bend, and the Sea Lion Caves are open. We have a lot of exhibits outside. We have a lot of things we can do to keep our guests safe. I don’t know what hoops we’ll have to jump through to reopen. We’re taking it very seriously, but our over-sanitized hands are tied.

Carrie Lewis, Oregon Coast Aquarium CEO, has been charting a course for reopening. “We’re small but we’re mighty,” she says, “and we will get through this.”

What are your plans for reopening?

We have a couple of opening plans. There would be a reduction in fees and everything would be purchased online: No coming up to the window to buy a ticket, and you would have to reserve a time. We’re seeing that this is a really productive way of getting visitors in.

We would set up stations at all outdoor exhibits, and visitors would go from exhibit to exhibit in groups of 10 with volunteers interpreting. We would be able to do 40 people an hour for seven hours. It would be a much shorter stay time. Usually, 2 to 2½  hours is the normal stay time. This would be about one hour.

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The little bookstore that could

Voices From the Front: McMinnville’s Third Street Books rides out COVID-19 with home deliveries, curbside pickup, and mail order

Over the past decade or so, every time I see one of those The End of Books stories or yet another article about how Amazon is crushing small, family-owned businesses or how eBooks are rendering bookstores irrelevant, I’ll make a point of asking Sylla McClellan, who has owned and operated Third Street Books in downtown McMinnville since 2004, how her shop is doing.

The answer is usually positive, sometimes less so. Given how the odds are stacked against indie bookstores even in the best of times, Third Street Books stands out as a survivor. So far, at least. That’s why I thought the occasion of a pandemic might be a good time to check in.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


In Yamhill County, most of our restaurants are shut down, though a few have modified their menus for curbside pickup. Third Street’s crown jewel, McMenamins Hotel Oregon, is shuttered. When I had breakfast there a few days before the governor’s executive order closed restaurants statewide, I was the only one in the restaurant at 9 a.m. Third Street Books just down the block remained open to customers, but the next day, March 12, McClellan posted this on Facebook:

“I have never spent so much time thinking about public health and the impact on our economy that it can (and will) have on my business. The news is changing so fast I have a hard time keeping up. We’ve been wiping down door handles and counter-tops all week. No hugging, handshaking or coughing is allowed (only sort of joking)!”

Sylla McClellan (right) laid off her staff at Third Street Books when the coronavirus forced the shop to close its doors, but has hired back one employee. Emily Kelly (left) hosts online story times, streaming Thursday mornings on Facebook. Photo by: David Bates
Sylla McClellan (right) laid off her staff at Third Street Books when the coronavirus forced the shop to close its doors, but has hired back one employee. Emily Kelly (left) hosts online story times, streaming Thursday mornings on Facebook. Photo by: David Bates

There’s always been a strong “shop local” culture in McMinnville, which clearly helps stores such as Third Street Books. McClellan is fortunate enough to run a bookstore in a city that likes to read. When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, were here in February to plug their book, more than 800 people showed up. Anecdotally, it seems there’s a high concentration of writers, artists, and teachers who, along with many others, must be regularly satiated with reading material — now, more than ever. Via email, McClellan and I talked about how you run a bookshop during a pandemic. The exchange below has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start at the beginning, just to give readers some context about how Third Street Books was positioned as the pandemic hit. Give us the quick version of the store’s origin and history, how you came to start it.

McClellan: In 2004, I purchased the then-named The Book Shoppe on Third. We opened in early January of that year with fresh paint as Third Street Books. I’ve always been grateful to be in a community that values having access to books. The downturn of ’08 didn’t really hit us until 2011. It was tough, but we learned how to slim down, work hard, and survive. That experience will be helpful now.

How was the shop doing before COVID-19? It seems like every time I’ve asked over the years how things are going there, you seem pretty upbeat.

We were solid before mid-March. We had a great staff of Real Professional Booksellers, as I like to call everyone, with a combined bookselling history of over 50 years. We were moving forward with new ideas; author visits to schools, tiptoeing into expanding our events offerings, and getting out of debt! Now all that has changed.

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Solidarity through song

Voices from the front: Aquilon Music Festival founder Anton Belov brings a community of singers together through Facebook Karaoke

The pop culture reference point of the moment is Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller Contagion, which is surely streaming into quarantined homes at some kind of record. That COVID-19-inspired resurgence of popularity is justifiably shared with Albert Camus, whose 1947 novel The Plague rendered a pandemic.

For our purposes, however, the most salient line from an artistic rendering of pestilence may be found in Mary Shelley’s little-known novel, The Last Man, published in 1826. Yes, that Mary Shelley. Eight years after she unleashed Frankenstein, Shelley tried her hand at a literary pandemic.

In one section, she laments on the passing of what today we’d call the humanities: “Farewell to the arts, to eloquence,” she wrote. “Farewell to music, and the sound of song… !”

Ah, but Shelley wasn’t on social media.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Anton Belov, founder of the Aquilon Music Festival and a Linfield College music professor, recently launched Facebook Karaoke. Photo courtesy: Linfield College

The “sound of song” is alive and well in Yamhill County, thanks in part to the efforts of Aquilon Music Festival founder Anton Belov, who this week began teaching his spring term classes at Linfield College online. Earlier this month, I stumbled upon a video of him on Facebook singing Sunday Morning Coming Down, a Kris Kristoffersen song that was included in Ray Stevens’ final album, Have a Little Talk With Myself, for Monument Records in 1969. Johnny Cash later recorded it for a hit on Billboard’s country chart.

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Voices from the front: ‘We’re in it for the long haul’

The longtime owner of a Cannon Beach art gallery predicts her business and others will survive the COVID-19 shutdown, with a little help from the community

Joyce Lincoln remembers vowing to herself at the age of 9 that one day she would live in Cannon Beach. Even as a child, she appreciated the natural beauty, the fresh air, and the community spirit. The Northwest native saw her wish come true in 1987, when she and her husband, Robert Necker, opened Northwest by Northwest Gallery in downtown Cannon Beach Thirty-three years later, they’re representing some of the biggest names in regional art.

Joyce Lincoln, owner of Northwest by Northwest Gallery in Cannon Beach
Joyce Lincoln says she’s seen hard times before in her 33 years as owner of Northwest by Northwest Gallery.

But now, she said, the place National Geographic named one of the most beautiful places on Earth has posted a closed sign.

The COVID-19 virus has ground life to a halt. Lincoln had to close her gallery during what would normally be a busy week – spring break — after tourists swamped the coast last weekend and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a statewide order closing nonessential businesses and telling people to stay home.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


“You can walk down Main Street and maybe see six other people,” Lincoln said this week. “Nothing is happening; it’s total devastation. Everyone is frightened out of their wits and frightened for themselves and their families. We’re all losing money every day. People are distracted by fear.”

Nonetheless, Lincoln said she completely understands why businesses have been shut down and tourists asked not to visit. But while health concerns top everyone’s list, Lincoln also worries about the local families who make their living in the restaurant and hotel businesses.

Last year, the local food bank served 9,000 people, she said. “And that was in good times.”

Lincoln’s been through this a time or two. There were the dark days following 9/11 and the drawn-out recession following the 2008 housing market collapse. The gallery pulled through, largely thanks to regular clients and local friends and, Lincoln said, “We learned to live a conservative lifestyle.”

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