Beyond the Plaza
Beyond the Plaza is a grouping of 12 restaurants, one Spa, one retail store and one mortgage lender. They’re BEYOND because they reside just slightly off the Plaza, on the corner block of North Main and Water Street or across the street to that block. Their link is their landlord, Lloyd Matthew Haines.
Each Beyond the Plaza business has felt the impact of COVID-19, and no two stories are alike. I spoke with two owners (Peter Hunkele, longstanding owner of Creekside Pizza Bistro, and Julie Gaulden, new owner of The Blue Giraffe Spa) to learn more about their experience over the past few months.
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Denise: How’s business?
Peter: Okay. It’s helpful that our landlord waived and reduced rent over the past few months, along with the PPP funding. Another thing that’s worked for us is that we were already set up for takeout/delivery, so we never closed. Also, our clientele is primarily locals and students, so we are not as reliant on tourists.
Denise: How are sales?
Peter: About 50% of what they should be. This will increase a bit with opening the restaurant with tables six feet apart, but it will not be normal anytime soon. It’ll take a while before we are back to 100%, if ever.
Denise: What do you see as the future for Ashland?
Peter: Becoming less reliant on the theater crowd and becoming a vibrant festival community is what will bring this town back to life. We’ve become too complacent and need to revive Ashland by inviting more young energy.
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Denise: How are you Julie?
Julie: I’ve been excited by the support I’ve received from this community, being the new owner of The Blue Giraffe. Ashland is amazing. And the rent being waived and reduced has helped tremendously.
When I bought The Blue Giraffe, I had only a single day of the spa being open before we had to close for eight weeks. It was difficult, but we decided to take advantage of the opportunity. We painted and organized like crazy. Then on May 15th we opened our doors, offering only 25% of the services that we carry.
Denise: How is business?
Julie: Okay for Day 10. We’re at 20% of normal income for this time of year. We can improve that but not dramatically due to the Spa requirements. They’re strict and include more than just social distancing and cleaning. Still, I feel good. It’ll be a challenging year, but we are going to be okay.
Denise: What do you see for the future of Ashland?
Julie: Our business is half locals and half tourists, so we rely heavily on those visitors to Ashland. I’m anxious to once again have entities like OSF and Britt running at capacity. I see us returning to business as usual by spring of 2021.