Right in the heart of downtown Ashland, the Shakespeare Capital of the Pacific Northwest, is this small little cafe nestled amongst the downtown shops. Not much seating, its more or less a walk-and-go location. The staff is friendly and amicable, but because of Ashland’s silly food tax laws, charges taxes on your drinks as does any food place downtown Ashland. The drinks are expensive here. Getting Chai Creme Frappacino‘s here was a common practice for us as we owned a store just down the road. Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Talent, Phoenix, Jacksonville, or Medford. They hop the bus back and forth home and many have never even stepped foot in downtown ‘. What does that say about affordability or embracing the limited-income citizens of the State?
The dining experience – Lots of colorful and attractive places to dine, and the food is good at many places. However, no surprise, it is very expensive. In addition, it is more expensive to eat out here than in any other Oregon city – because Ashland feels it is above the State of Oregon and implements a food service tax, barring the no sales tax attraction of the State. Also be weary that some restaurants have seasonal menus with seasonal prices as well as menus for tourists and those for locals. Often prices just increase during tourist season ‘ so your typical $6.50 burger will become $9.50 to rape the tourist’s wallet. As a former shop owner, we had so many locals come into our establishment complaining our prices were too low and need to be increased up triple ‘ perhaps which was another reason we failed in the area.
Where does this food tax money go? Rumor has it into the political hands of the ego-centric folk that run the town supposedly for city development. Certainly not into landscaping, the arts, monuments, or say “history” that this town should depict. One of reasons Ashland possesses no historical museum (unlike most towns) is lack of funding and city support … the historical society tried, but rents and expenses were too high. The chamber of commerce is slanted to businesses willing to pay top dollar for promotions. For a town that artistically broadcasts “history” – whatever history once began here is plastered over with asphalt and overlooked like a decrepit Band-Aid. Some local historians told me that the town ignored many archaeological and historical preservation laws in building the plaza, buildings, and roads … ignoring Native American village sites. The artifacts they dug up in those excavations? Who knows where they live – certainly not in the ease of view by the public. Of course that is only hearsay and town gossip, one would have to dig deeper to know the truth. However, from my first hand experience, they do not present this history to visitors like they should.
Entertainment – The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is phenomenal, and the free concerts on the green each Wednesday is lovely. I’ve heard the Armory has a lot of great shows and gigs ‘ one of the few stages alternative entertainment can prevail. Lithia Park is a beautiful green space, but any theatrical, artistic, drumming, and other usual-activities you find in parks – is suppressed by the police. I’ve heard in the past there once were numerous drum circles ‘ banned by the city in effort to get rid of transients. In fact they have very minimal set hours that one could drum there if at all. Street performers seem to be tolerated but not encouraged. The ice skating rink is nice, quaint, and charming. The duck pond is great for the kids. But it is seasonal, drained during certain seasons. Oberon’s Tavern and the Black Sheep are the only worthy places to go evenings hosting the only outlets left for the artistic to seek refuge and company. Good times have been had many times at those establishments. It’s a shame that most of the students don’t venture downtown to liven these places up more. There really is no dance clubs to speak of and the city seems too often shut them down. Apparently in the past there were a few, but closed down through time. The art walks are pathetic and again only centered down the main street. Businesses set off the main street are lucky to get a handful wandering in all night. Everyone brags about the parades ‘ they are very crowded but simplistic and any off-zone entertainment stifled. Due to the passing of Medical and Recreational Marijuana use in the state, much to the dismay of Ashland city planners, several pot shops have opened their doors around town. (Fall 2015)
Flash mobs – essentially non-existent, though I hope this changes if someone is brave enough to take up the organizing. There is a zombie crawl, but it is a boring walk from the Library to the Plaza with not much more than that, stifled from threats of permits and concerns something could go wrong. Santa-con? Hasn’t been accomplished in this city yet from my observations (2014-2015). The parades in the city used to be phenomenal, or so I’ve heard – 4th of July and Halloween, but due to crowds and safety concerns, the city has suppressed them as best as they can get away with. The crowds do still come for the events expecting the wild party that they once had a reputation for. Ashland was once known for its wild and creative colors, most of which are being suppressed and pushed out these days. Wandering musicians and street performers – they are still there, but being pushed onwards (Fall 2015). Tarot readers? You’d think this city would be bonkers for the divinatory and gypsy arts as many portray themselves as new age, enlightened, or earth rooted in town – not quite, often ignored. There is a lot of ‘pretending’ about being ‘enlightened’ in this city. Much of it is a fa’ade. It’s hard to find a reader within the city limits. There is one psychic just north of town (2015), outside the city limits, more towards Talent. Ashland once hosted a few psychic fairs – all of which are non-existent these days. The image of light weaving, crystal bearing, new agers and hippies has gone only as a yuppie styled facade rather than an actual practice. Again, though – true spirituality and alternative religious thought is very abundant in the area’s outskirts, especially just OUTSIDE the borders of town, to the north with great groups like the Goddess Temple, Rowan tree, etc. You won’t find much in Ashland. Even the infamous Metaphysical library recently shut down its doors (2015). Most of the metaphysical or Pagan shops have also shut down and moved on (2015). Ghost tours – non-existent, though there is always rumors someone is going to start this up. We thought about starting one up, but what little haunted history the town has, is pushed under the rug. The freedom with clothing optional activities that Oregon is often known for – very suppressed in this town, again altering State Law, the city forbids nudity in public. No Naked bike rides here.
Oregon Shakespeare fest now runs from February to October, almost year round in its three theaters. This is the base of entertainment for the city. The Oregon Cabaret Theater has musicals and comedies through the year. The Ashland Independent Film Festival showing domestic and international films is hosted annually in April with over 80 films screened within 5 days. Ashland New Plays Festival holds competitions annually during its October 5 day event. The National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory is located in Ashland and is the world’s only laboratory dedicated to solving crimes against wildlife, though there is no visitor center. The Ashland Public Library is a wonderful library with great kid programs, a must visit location for parents living in the city and visiting. The Science Center is also a great space for kids.
Ashland has a fair share of parks and green space. Lithia Park, the most famous, is a 93 acre park with 42 of its acreage on the National Register of Historic Places. It hosts two ponds, a Japanese garden, tennis courts, two public greens, an outdoor band shell, and hiking trails. There are fountains in the town plaza pumping out the infamous LIthia waters ‘ strongly mineral tasting for tourists to taste. The Bear Creek greenway runs from Ashland following Bear Creek 25 miles to Talent, Phoenix, Medford, and Central Point and is a great walking, hiking, and bicycling trail.
Politics – Ashland tries to advertise its alternative thoughts, clean living, and open-ness – it however is predominantly conservative, closed group, and consisting of a mayor-council government assisted by citizen committees. Its liberal politics always differ sharply with the rest of southwestern Oregon making its conservative-liberal clash and mix a strange phenomena to experience first hand. The city is run by a mayor-council government with a mayor and 6 council members serving 4 years. The current mayor, John Stromberg ends his term in 2016 and is seen as responsible for much of the downtrends of Ashland losing popularity as a tourist destination. In the past however, Ashland was known for being more liberal than the rest of Oregon and had the nickname as being the People’s Republic of Ashland and advocates to join the state of Jefferson. Many citizens in Oregon are for clean air (although Ashland air quality is low), anti-immunizations, anti-chem trails, and against brand-name commercial development. Although there seems to be a large amount of individuals claiming to eat and live healthy, the number of healthier alternative restaurants in town are minimal and there are no vegan only establishments (2015). Through a nasty monopoly grocery-chain war, Haggens was set up to fail by Albertsons/Safeway in 2015. The Health food co-op and Shop n’ Kart are the places to go.
Ashland is not very varied in diversity, according to the 2010 Census, calculating a population just over 20,000 placed Ashland as 90% white, 5% Hispanic, 1% African American, 1% Native American, 2% Asian, .3% Pacific Islander, and 4.4% Other. Ashland has a median age range of 42.9 years of age. The average Ashland income is about $41,334 and median family income is $58,409. The per capita income for the city is $28,941 with over 21% of the population below poverty.
Ashland depends on tourism and that is severely suffered these days due to the current political climate and control. Stores, restaurants, and businesses often come and go ‘ seeing a flux that is ending independent business in the village moving to larger entities and away from the mom and pop shop. Again, Ashland would not have an economy without the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that sells more than 400,000 tickets a year. The largest employer in town is the University.
Ashland has been the film set for Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’ and the 2014 Reese Witherspoon movie ‘Wild’.
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This page was last updated on 8/16/2015
Baurley, Thomas 2015 Alternative America: Travel Guide to the U.S.A. Technogypsie Publications, Riverside, California.