Citing the loss of tourist dollars, the 26-year-old brew pub closed its doors for the last time Sunday
By Paul R. Huard for Ashland.news
Standing Stone Brewing Co., as famous for its community spirit and environmental stewardship as it was as a downtown Ashland bastion of beers and food, closed its doors for good Sunday, a victim of the nosedive in tourist dollars after four years of regional and national calamity.
The restaurant and brew pub finished its 26-year run strongly. By 1 p.m., the line of customers waiting for tables streamed out of the front door and onto the sidewalk.
Three-dollar pints and a side-order of nostalgia worked their magic. Within a few hours, the restaurant had done as much business as it usually did during a full day.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Elisha Lewis, Standing Stone restaurant manager and an employee of the establishment for more than six years. “I’ve seen the highs and the lows. I’ve seen firsthand how this business has given back to the community.”
Brothers Mark, Emile and Alex Amarotico founded the brewery and restaurant in 1996. They converted the historic Whittle Garage Building at 101 Oak St. into an eatery and pub known throughout Oregon not only for its hip fare but also for its forward-thinking business model that included environmental awareness and efforts at sustainability.
The brew pub was also known for offering employees competitive wages, benefits such as health insurance and a savings plan, and even the chance to earn a free bicycle during a program to encourage workers to cycle from home rather than drive an automobile.
“It’s team-oriented here, it’s like a family,” Lewis said. “It’s well-known by word-of-mouth that Standing Stone is a fantastic place to work.”
In addition, the business sponsored numerous fund-raising efforts for causes local and global. Only recently, Standing Stone helped raise $6,000 for World Central Kitchen, a humanitarian relief organization feeding refugees from the war in Ukraine.
But starting in 2018, smoke from wildland fires, torrid summers, the Almeda Fire, and the COVID-19 pandemic all combined to create a four-year economic body-blow that caused the tourism industry in Southern Oregon to wane. In addition, the staff shortages that followed in the wake of the economic downturn made it difficult to find enough employees to crew all shifts.
The brew pub’s closure means more than just one less place in downtown Ashland to hoist a few. In its heyday before 2018, Standing Stone employed as many as 60 people, making it one of the largest employers in the city of Ashland.
Lewis said that as many of 30 people will be idled now by the closure. “Half of the staff here have families,” she said.
“I am holding back tears,” said Darian Harpold, an assistant manager at the restaurant who worked at Standing Stone for five years. “There are regulars and co-workers who are sad because they have relied on this place. I am a loyal person, so it’s sad to see the ship go down.”
Harpold said both customers and community members have asked her what the future holds for Standing Stone.
“We just don’t have the answers,” she said. “We just don’t know. It going to take someone very special to come in.”
Lewis said the closure would have huge economic impact on downtown Ashland. Yet, since news of the impending closure broke business at the restaurant has been booming — nearly double the daily averages in sales.
She said there is a valuable lesson that comes from the restaurant’s closure.
“You can only ask for help so much,” Lewis said. “I hope the community learns to support local business. It’s so important to do.”
Email freelance reporter Paul R. Huard at firstname.lastname@example.org.