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Fire impacts valley businesses

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

August 19, 2006

A week after Mount Hood began to burn, Hood River Valley businesses are feeling a pinch in their wallets.

Some business owners attributed the slow-down not to the fire but to the closure of Highway 35 between Parkdale and White River Sno-Park.

The U.S. Forest Service re-opened the highway Thursday night at 9 p.m. with restrictions but the effect from the closure lingers. While reader board signs placed along Interstate 84 near Portland and Hood River stated the road closure was 22 miles south of Hood River, merchants felt the word was out that Mount Hood was shut down.

“The media says Highway 35 is closed. You can go to maps and check it out but people don’t have or take the time to do that,” said Karen Louiselle.

She owns and operates the Mt. Hood Country Store on Highway 35. She said her business is off by half, which is important not just because of the summer holiday season but the timing.

“August is the single busiest month of the year. We have had a great season up until this happened,” Louiselle said.

Even on the way to Mount Hood business has been off for other valley stops. Steve Bickford, co-owner of the Mt. Hood Winery, said business is 50 to 60 percent of normal compared to the way the summer has been going.

“The signage puts people off; they think Highway 35 is just closed entirely,” he said.

Two businesses closest to the north side of the Bluegrass fire near Cooper Spur reported that weddings remain a mainstay on the weekends but the fire has had a mixed effect. Cooper Spur Mountain Resort Manager Jodi Gehrman said their business has remained steady.

“I know some people probably have turned around … but last weekend we had 200 people here for a wedding,” she said.

Gehrman said she has also had a number of people come up who are curious about the fire and stop in for refreshments.

“I’m sure it’s affected the restaurant somewhat,” she said. “We have been lucky enough to have other things such as the White Salmon School District that was here for a retreat and Timberline camps.”

Her neighbor down the hill, the Mt. Hood Bed and Breakfast, has had a different experience. Mike Rice supervised his 2-year-old granddaughter Emma Jo’s watering Thursday night while he talked.

“The people who are supposed to come up here call the place to see if we’ve burned up,” he said. “They say on the news that Government Camp and Timberline are open but don’t mention the smaller businesses.”

Rice said while his wedding customers have kept their plans, the rest of his bed-and-breakfast business has been halved by the fire.

Other valley merchants, especially those farms that are part of the Fruit Loop tour in Hood River County, have taken proactive measures to let the public know this weekend’s events for the 19th annual Gravenstein Days are still on.

That includes a letter written by Rep. Patti Smith and sent to the media to support Hood River Valley businesses and commenting on the reopening of the highway.

“This is great news for the economy of Hood River,” she wrote. “Closing that route has been devastating to the economy of Hood River County as many tourists come to the valley to pick up fruit, visit orchards, wineries, and spend their recreation dollars.”

See Highway 35 reopens with restrictions for a fire update and details on Highway 35 travel restrictions.

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