Last September, after moving to Eugene from Seaside, Oregon, Eric Nelson and his wife, Karen Nelson, would take long walks every morning, talking over their next move.
They’d owned a successful restaurant and bar in Seaside called Sam’s Seaside Cafe for nearly 25 years, selling it only to move closer to their son, who settled in Eugene after graduating from the University of Oregon.
“I missed being in the industry, and she started missing it, too,” Eric Nelson remembers.
Inclined to re-enter the hospitality business, Nelson and his wife discussed what their next establishment might be like: Something smaller, they thought, more of a bar than a restaurant; a place that would be easy to operate with minimal staffing.
For these reasons the Nelsons were interested when The Barn Light came up for sale in downtown Eugene.
“It was exactly what we’d been describing,” Nelson says. “We fell in love with it.”
After buying the popular bar and nightlife destination, which closed in the early months of the pandemic, the Nelsons reopened The Barn Light in late February, just in time for Lane County’s COVID-19 risk level to be downgraded, allowing for some limited indoor service at bars and restaurants in the area.
It wasn’t just the pandemic that put The Barn Light up for sale. Business partners Thomas Pettus-Czar and Mark Sheppard started families and other businesses, including Farmers Union Coffee Roasters, and it was simply time to move on.
With espresso and local coffee from Farmers Union, fans of The Barn Light can expect much the same atmosphere as before, Nelson says, with a drink menu recreated with the help of a former Barn Light bartender.
Special events such as karaoke will also return, just as soon as the pandemic subsides, Nelson says.
What the Nelsons saw in The Barn Light was what many patrons already loved about the place.
“It’s a really comfortable space,” Nelson explains. “It has the perfect feel, the kind of bar I would feel comfortable being in, a perfect place to hang out.”
The couple from Seaside weren’t the only interested buyers, but when the former owners of The Barn Light met the Nelsons, they knew they’d found a match.
“It meant a lot to us that they decided to keep the name and brand that we built over the last eight years,” Pettus-Czar tells Eugene Weekly in an email. “We are thrilled that Karen and Eric are the ones taking over to keep The Barn Light ‘on.’”
When the bar opened at 924 Willamette Street in 2012, it was a pioneering business in a severely blighted area of downtown, a harbinger of revival that continues to this day, despite suffering many setbacks on account of the pandemic.
The mix of great drinks, good food, urban sensibility and creative, Pacific Northwest rustic décor caught on quickly, making The Barn Light a popular spot, especially for local artists and tech industry professionals working nearby.
The announcement that The Barn Light would be among the first round of local establishments to be hurt by COVID-19 safety restrictions came as an acute blow to community morale. Since reopening, though, the reception has been fantastic, Nelson says — a welcome sign of spring, and a nice reminder that one day, COVID-19 will be behind us.
“I have been blown away,” Nelson says. “Everyone’s been so positive. It’s very exciting.”
The Barn Light is open with limited indoor capacity and outdoor seating, 2 pm to midnight Sunday through Wednesday, and 2 pm to 2 am Thursday through Saturday at 924 Willamette Street in Eugene.