Cottage Grove

Cottage Grove Chamber relocates to busy corner

Last Wednesday I was sitting at an outside table at The Axe & Fiddle, grokking the flow on Main Street. I was feeling a bit melancholic over what I was taking in. In very recent memory there were art walks, live music, the Bohemia Mining Days parade and other community events drawing lots of folks to the Historic District.

Since reopening from the lockdown, things have picked up but there is something missing. Regardless, I am glad that people are taking things seriously amid the pandemic; it’s better to be safe than sorry.

There is a renewed strength in what I was sensing too. Many changes you can see, others are hidden and working behind the scenes to keep Main Street strong economically and culturally.

One of the changes on the visual level is that the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce has moved its office to the historic Woodson Bros. Garage – Holloman Ford building. Shauna Neigh, Chamber CEO and president touted the new location. “This is at the busiest corner in South Lane County, Main Street and 99. We wanted more visibility and to be better connected to Main Street. Stop by and check us out, just to chat or for anything we can help you with.”

Several new businesses are preparing to open, or already have. People are excited about the new eatery, Bartollotti’s. The patrons had to dodge jack-hammered sidewalks and painters on man-lifts as Len Blackstone put the finishing touches on his redevelopment project, The Bank Building.

Other changes are less visible.

Around the time of the new millennium, an old standard was fizzling out. The Downtown Association of local business owners sputtered to a stop.  

Declines in the logging industry and a changing America that favored interstate highways, shopping malls, and big box stores had dealt a blow to the traditional commerce in downtowns. 

Local business owner George Devine along with some other willing business folk approached the city leaders to see what they could do to help out. After putting their heads together, lots of meetings, studying other municipalities, and surveying their fellow business owners, it was decided to incorporate a new group into a nonprofit corporation. The result was the Economic and Business Improvement Districts (EBID). While chartered by the city, the new group had a lot of flexibility and powers of its own.  

It was in fact two entities, the Economic Improvement District, made up of the property owners downtown, and the Business Improvement District, which are the business owners – whether they rent or own their own buildings. Sometimes they were the same person. Membership fees brought in revenue.

Devine, who served as both one of the founders and EBID board chairman for 10 years, commented on some of the reasons behind the success of the organization: “We had a high percentage of buy-in from the downtown businesses; even though membership was voluntary, over 90% joined. And they were happy with what they saw happening. We were all volunteers, in addition to running our businesses, but we really did a lot of good. We felt everyone benefited when downtown started looking better.”  

According to Jim Gilroy, another officer, EBID has always been a behind-the-scenes, silent partner for helping fix up and promote our downtown. “The money for many of the ongoing projects around town have come through the organization. Like the benches, flower planters, hanging baskets, play structure at Bohemia Park, mural projects, funds for the Armory restoration, All-America Square park improvements, and even the stage shell at Bohemia park. We have also served as a pass-through for smaller community organizations who use our 501-3c status to allow payments and grant monies to be disbursed to them, which otherwise couldn’t legally happen without this channel.”

EBID mission was augmented about seven years ago by Cottage Grove joining the Main Street Program. Nationally it is a grassroots movement to help revitalize downtowns. Under the national program “Main Street America” comes also “Oregon Main Street,” facilitated through the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. Both of these organizations seek to empower, train and facilitate helping local communities develop visions for their downtowns and assist with some costs through grants.

One of the first things that happened was the hiring of a Main Street Coordinator, part time at first, but later full time. The coordinator was responsible for creating some buzz for the downtown.

Membership in Main Street also required a board and dedicated volunteers; both groups realized that it was time to combine forces. With the city’s blessing, a new organization was formed – “Downtown Cottage Grove.”

Danny Solesbee saw many advantages to the merger. “We were two groups doing a lot of the same things and many of us were on the two boards.”

He is president of the new group, and its board is scheduled to meet Sept. 15 to discuss goals and structure. 

I urge folks to mask up and head downtown to support our local businesses and our town. Help make sure Grove-based businesses are here for you when things get back to more normal times.

Contact Dana at [email protected]



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