Local businesses on E. 13th Avenue near the University of Oregon campus are hurting. With social distancing laws in effect and the school’s transition to online classes, the students that normally support these stores just aren’t around.
Many shops have managed to stay open, though some are facing challenges unrelated to the pandemic.
George Dudley, owner of Dudley’s Kampus Barber, received an email from the UO Duck Store back in December with bad news.
“The email told me that this was going to be the last six months of my lease,” Dudley says. “After July 1, we’ll be put onto a month-to-month lease schedule, which made me think that any time after that, we could be kicked out of the building.”
The Duck Store on 13th Avenue, a nonprofit separate from the UO, technically owns the land that Dudley’s business and a number of others operate on. Dudley says the Duck Store intends to gut and renovate their buildings, then raise rent prices before inviting them back.
“I knew for a while that I would have to move shops, but I didn’t think it would happen during the pandemic” Dudley says. “I had to act fast, so I bought another building around the corner thinking that my customers would follow us if we were still close by.”
The building transaction, according to Dudley, put him in debt nearly $45,000.
“Before March, we were having a record year,” he says, “but then the pandemic hit and all the shop’s expenses started coming out of my savings.”
The Duck Store’s controller, Andrew Moreland, explains the reasoning behind contacting business owners on 13th and preparing to renovate.
“The board agreed that we needed to make some capital improvements, so we put everyone on the same lease schedule,” he says. “I reached out to George and the other tenants in December wanting to give everyone the most amount of time possible to figure out their plan.”
Moreland says the Duck Store is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a separate business entity from the University. Its primary goal is to deliver books and supplies to students, but no one really knows when the masses of students will return. According to its website, the Duck Store board is mainly composed of faculty and staff and gives students the opportunity to apply for board positions.
“We’re a business, too, and the reason we own those buildings is to fund our core mission,” he says. “Once we’ve updated the buildings, we can charge market rates and make our money back on those investments.”
According to the Duck Store’s most recent 990 tax form filed Sept. 20, 2020, the nonprofit started the tax year with nearly $18 million in total assets but ended with $15.6 million.
Although Dudley’s Kampus Barber found a solution — albeit, a costly one — other local businesses on Duck Store-owned land aren’t quite there yet.
Next door to the barber shop is Boba Head, which served drinks to students between classes when 13th was still a bustling hub for campus life. Owner Shuang Han said she doesn’t know how long she plans to operate before the month-to-month leasing begins.
“We manage three other Boba Head shops in town,” Han says. “They basically cover the cost of the campus location since it’s lost so many customers. We may be able to afford rent if we’re invited back to the building, but it’s too early to tell.”
One more door down is Caspian Mediterranean Cafe, which has dished out food to the campus population at all hours of the day for over 20 years.
“Since we heard the news, we’ve been looking for potential new spaces near campus,” says Caspian’s owner Elhaam Yazdi. “We haven’t found any good fits yet, but we’re hoping that the community continues to support us wherever we do end up.”
Even further down the row on Duck Store land is longtime business Blue Heron Bicycles, which temporarily closed its doors to the public just before Christmas. A homemade sign was posted on the front door at the time saying that the shop would open up again soon.
Blue Heron shares a wall with Yogurt Extreme, which permanently closed just after the start of the pandemic. Now, a “For Lease” sign hangs in the space’s front window.
Business owners on 13th Avenue and their workers are dealing with COVID-19, unpaid bills and potential job loss and now the potential uprooting of their businesses. The more time that passes without a resurgence in student activity, the less likely it is that local campus businesses will survive.
Those interested in board positions at the UO Duckstore can email Natalie Eggert at NEggert@UODuckstore.com.