Entrepreneurs Bet On Themselves, Despite The Pandemic

Kyle Odegard Albany Democrat-Herald, Ore.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The pandemic hasn't stopped the entrepreneurial spirit of some business owners who aren't scaling back. Despite social distancing restrictions, some entrepreneurs are betting on themselves to survive this rough stretch and ultimately thrive.

Albany

Erica Baze and Travis Allen had formulated a plan to open up a bar and restaurant, but were waiting for the ideal location.

When prime space on the Corvallis waterfront opened up due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and a resulting closure, the life partners turned business partners jumped at the opportunity.

"Whenever you're opening a business there are going to be unknowns. There's always going to be a risk," Allen said.

"It was time," Baze added. "We were trying to work on a plan for about six years."

And so the Biere Library opened up in the former DeMaggio's Pizza and Pig & Olive location in early October, right as COVID-19 cases in Oregon and across the country were picking up steam.

The pandemic hasn't stopped the entrepreneurial spirit of mid-Willamette Valley residents, said Lise Grato, executive director of the Albany Downtown Association.

To be sure, numerous shops and restaurants have closed in Corvallis, Albany, Lebanon and other towns.

But some business owners, rather than scaling back, are betting on themselves to survive this rough stretch — and the potential of additional social distancing restrictions and shutdowns — and thrive on the other side, she added.

"It's exciting to see all this activity," Grato said.

While a few businesses have permanently closed in downtown Albany in the last year, including U.S. Bank, a handful of others have opened up shop, such as Spiritopia, Lux + Lu and more.

Two prominent stores, the Natty Dresser and Urban Ag Supply, also moved into larger locations in downtown Albany, Grato said. Other businesses and nonprofits, such as Enigma Escape Experience and C.H.A.N.C.E., have filled vacant spaces downtown.

"I'm sorry to see some other businesses go that weren't able to adapt their model to COVID. But it's reassuring to see how many people have retooled and made things work for them," Grato said.

She added that she was thrilled to see restaurants opening back up for indoor dining, as that causes a ripple of positive impacts downtown.

Jennifer Moreland, executive director of the Downtown Corvallis Association, said that there are numerous new businesses getting ready to open in downtown Corvallis, and a few that are in operation, including Common Fields, a food cart pod that includes three eateries. Several new businesses were waiting for restriction levels to change in Benton County before welcoming customers, she added.

Even existing businesses were eager for Corvallis to drop out of the extreme risk level, Moreland added.

"People have been holding tight and really are looking for the restrictions to change, and they're ready to carry on as usual or ready to come back stronger than before," she said. Many retail businesses have done well during the pandemic, but Corvallis restaurants, which weren't able to welcome customers inside for months until Friday, suffered the most.

"The biggest thing that I'm hearing is we need more foot traffic," Moreland said. "I'm hoping with the weather change that will happen."

The Biere Library Baze and Allen said the pandemic was actually beneficial to them in some ways when they opened up the Biere Library, because it gave them a smaller clientele, a slower pace and the ability to tinker and perfect beer selections, other aspects of the menu, and service.

Other business owners, many of whom believe in a sort of symbiosis in the downtown scene, have been extremely helpful.

"They want us to stay open and that's a great feeling," Baze said.

"They're caring people and they want everyone to succeed," Allen added. Baze and Allen, a National Guard veteran, have been together for 10 years, and both have worked in restaurants for years. Allen, a Western Oregon University graduate, also graduated from Seattle Culinary Academy.

The Biere Library focuses mainly on Belgium beers and cuisine, as Baze's mother is from the European country. When the couple visited there a few years ago, Allen swooned over the food.

He's adapted a lot of Baze's family recipes for the Biere Library.

But the library in the business name isn't just for the collection of cans and bottles and draft beers, which include local and regional beverages, as well.

The bar and restaurant has a literary theme.

"We're both big book nerds and we love to read," Baze said.

The business is a sort of melding of the couple's interests, and they believe that mix will play well in Corvallis, too, which has many people who love to read.

The décor plays to the literary theme, and customers have donated numerous volumes to the business. The Biere Library also has a take-one-leave-one bookshelf by the front.

Once the pandemic is over, the couple wants locals to linger over a pint and read or socialize. "We hope to have a book club when it's safe again," Baze said.

For the time being, they're encouraging residents to stay for a while at outside seating.

Bottles and cans at the Biere Library can be enjoyed at the business or ordered to-go.

The Biere Library also has a veterans coffee hour from 11 a.m. to noon and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Wednesday, where vets can come in for a free coffee and waffle. Industry specials are from 2 p.m. to close on Mondays.

The Biere Library, 151 N.W. Monroe Ave, is open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Sunday and is closed on Tuesday.

For more information, call 541-286-4193 or go to https://www.thebierelibrary.com/.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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