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Coping with the crisis: Mid-valley residents tell their stories
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Coping with the crisis: Mid-valley residents tell their stories

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Life in the mid-valley has changed utterly with the arrival of the coronavirus.

And more changes are coming.

The impacts are huge. Where we work, gather, play, worship, eat and drink — it’s all different now.

In the interest of finding out more about how COVID-19 is affecting the mid-valley we reached out to a series of people, some well known, some not. We focused on people whose roles have changed or who are involved in some of those community spaces that have undergone changes — or closure. Such as libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, churches, bowling centers and Oregon State University.

We asked then simple questions on how the crisis is affecting them professionally as well as personally and what has surprised them as the crisis has mushroomed.

All of the interviews were conducted via email, although we did dispatch a photographer to take pictures of a couple of key correspondents.

The responses were thoughtful, well-reasoned and infused with a spirit of “we are going to get through this together.” No back-biting or grumbling. The mid-valley appears to be ready to lend a hand.

Here are two examples of that. One correspondent noted that those who had bought tickets to shows of the Corvallis High School production of “Mamma Mia!” that were canceled were encouraged to make donations instead of seek refunds. Most did.

Another correspondent spoke of a long-planned March 12 visit to the LaSells Stewart Center of a renowned dance ensemble from Brigham Young University. The show was canceled 12 hours before local organizers were set to greet the arriving dancers. Again, the call went out to donate rather than seek refunds. Again, most did.

It strikes us that moving forward the more times we as a community — and a nation and a planet — say “yes, we can,” the better off we will be in the long run.

Please note that the responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.   

The events man

Randy Porter is general manager of the Linn County Fair and Expo Center in Albany.

We hold about 300 events per year. That is everything from the small 10-person meeting all the way up to the big dog shows, home shows, etc.  With that we attract about 345,000 people annually.  We have a very large impact on the local community.  We have vendors that are tied directly to us such as catering, alcohol, security … the list goes on.  On top of that we impact the local community with heads in beds, gas, food sales, and that list goes onas well.  If this pandemic continues I can see some of these vendors that are smaller just closing up shop. We use quite a bit of temp help and they are completely gone.

The one thing that has surprised me a little is how concerned the event promoters have been. They have been very interested in keeping people safe versus looking at their bottom line. A lot of the events here are events that are put on by local clubs, and they use these funds to continue their club business throughout the year. They are sacrificing the potential viability of their club for the safety of the public.

The mayor

Sharon Konopa is the mayor of Albany.

My role has shifted from attending daily meetings and community events to now meetings via phone and no events to attend. But, I have been constantly reacting to questions and concerns from citizens every day and evening. People are worried, and I don’t blame them. This is an unsettling time we have entered. However, it is very comforting to see so many people and organizations reaching out wanting to assist the city with help and many people sending prayers. That is what makes a great community. 

Over my years in city government we have weathered other recessions. The economic impacts from this virus remind me of September 11, but it’s different, because businesses then closed because of a gradual decline with customers. Now, storefront businesses, whether they were thriving or struggling, are being forced to close. This impacts more people and more business sectors. The Great Recession was slower in the eroding of businesses and jobs and then slower to rebound. It looks like we are heading into a recession again and almost overnight this time, but hopefully it will be short-lived. 

I really do not think our state and federal governments realize the magnitude this virus has on communities, businesses, employees, nonprofits and households. Our city services are being stretched thin, and the longer this virus continues the less revenue we will have for our city programs. I hope our federal government comes up with a solid plan for recovery -- and fast.

Spring is here and hopefully it will be a warm season for people to spend time outdoors and blow this virus away in the wind and for good.

The safety net

Helen Higgins is the chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis.

We closed our doors on March 16 in conjunction with school closures.  I’ve got my full-time staff working from home and a small crew in the building to keep basic operations moving forward.

Taking into account all of our after-school programs we serve close to 1,000 youth each day. If we were to add in the sports programs, that would be an additional 200-plus youth or so

Being the primary provider of year-round after-school care services for the Corvallis community -- this has a big impact. We had a mom in our lobby in tears when we announced we’d be closed until March 31. She wondered what she was going to do. I have heard from a few parents that they’ve had to leave their kids home alone because they don’t have any other care options. I know that some families are forming groups to help provide child care, but for families that are not as connected with a strong social network, and some of our single working parents, this is a crisis for the family. We also worry about youth living in homes that are not safe, and now the kids have no respite place to be outside of the home. Losing regular contact with our youth development staff and positive mentors and their friends is a problem for our most vulnerable youth. This is showing up (probably silently because it’s hard to see) as an equity issue for youth that don’t have someone that can be providing the academic and enrichment opportunities, especially if the child is left home alone.

None of us has any experience in dealing with a pandemic. The literally hourly changes to the response is both frustrating and disconcerting. We struggle with our mission of providing a safe and enriching space for school-age youth, while also understanding that serving our youth has inherent risks.  I knew how great my staff was before, but now seeing the team’s resiliency, willingness to adapt and step forward as needed to be a part of the solutions, has been heartwarming to say the least.

The grandfather

Curtis Wright is a retired ad agency owner and “community enthusiast” who regularly posts photos of the athletic accomplishments of his grandson, Tommy.

The last time we saw our grandkids was last weekend. In normal life we would have been at CHS, enjoying the finale of ‘Mamma Mia!’ Afterwards we would have given (granddaughter) Elena a bouquet of flowers, and smothered her with hugs, kisses, and words of praise. In this new, not normal life, we stopped by the kids’ house to still give her a bouquet, but there couldn’t be any hugs and kisses. We talked with Tommy about the plans for spring soccer (still up in the air) and his wisdom teeth extractions (still on schedule).  Since then contact has been limited to text messages and snapchat pictures. I expect when we again get to be with Tommy and Elena in five or six weeks, they both will have grown another six inches or so. And given the lessons of this challenging time, matured a decade or so.

There’s now time to do things there wasn’t time for before. That deep spring cleaning of our furniture has been done, and it added 78 cents in couch change to our savings. Over at the kids’ house we hear they’re painting and making over the upstairs play area into a teenager’s game room. I’ve finally made it to page 776, the end of my Christmas present:  “The British Are Coming,” volume one of Rick Atkinson’s “The Revolution Trilogy.” And I understand Tommy is learning to code in Python and Elena, is teaching herself touch-typing.

We’re finding other ways to do things we enjoy doing. Thanks to the HouseParty app, Elena can hang out online with all her friends she used to see daily at Linus Pauling Middle School. Since LBCC canceled my wife’s Better Bones & Balance classes at Benton Center and SamFit’s temporary closing curtailed my workouts, we have dusted off our old treadmill, dug the weights and exercise balls and bands out of the closet, and turned a part of our family room into a personal gym.

I’ve taken to social media like never before. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have helped replace some of the social interactions that came from board meetings of community organizations and city commissions. In these strange and strained times, social media has been a good avenue for rallying support for the economic well-being of our community.

So much of what we take for granted has so rapidly and radically changed. So many plans for next week, next month, or sometime later this year have been scratched off of our collective calendars. So many dreams of youth, school, and collegiate sports competitions, of graduation ceremonies, of once-in-a-lifetime vacations, of life-celebrating events, have been forever altered.

People are losing their jobs. People are seeing their businesses falter, and some will fail. People are seeing much of their invested savings for the future disappearing. People are seeing loved ones taken ill, and too many will die.

But through it all, I see people in our community being even better than ever before. More caring, more reaching out to help. We will get through this. And we’ll be a better community for how we did it, together.

Bowling alone?

Roger Nyquist is a Linn County commissioner and the owner of Lakeshore Lanes in Albany.

I think you are spot-on with the community gathering spaces being important, especially in these times.  

We made the decision last Tuesday to stay open for bowling and miniature golf after carefully reviewing the governor’s executive order and concluding the spacious nature of our facilities would give patrons ample opportunity to meet the social distancing requirements in the order. This is traditionally the season in which mini golf play increases.  

While customers can bowl or play mini golf we have no food or beverage service available as per the executive order. That has a big impact on business.  Bowling has evolved in the last 20 years from being a competitive sport to include a majority of patrons who view us as a place for family entertainment and socialization. On March 14 we had 14 group events scheduled.  We ultimately hosted seven of those after others canceled. Business this week has been very sparse.

The gymnastics academy

Monée Johnston, along with her husband and two other couples, founded the Peak Elite Gymnastics Academy in 2018.

We are hanging in there though there are certainly some major disruptions both personally and business wise as of late. On April 16 we made the tough decision to close our doors due to the developments of the situation and guidance by our government. We had been operating through the previous week with a good amount of questions about the “right” choices to make for sake of the community and for our business and employees. On one hand we felt compelled to continue to provide a sense of normalcy for kids and families while being extra cognizant of cleanliness, but as numbers slowly grew lower and lower in class attendance and the need for more drastic social distancing than we could reasonably accomplish at this time became more apparent, we determined we would need to temporarily close. 

Since we acquired the business 18 months ago, we had grown the business from 56 students at the time to over 400 students (in both Benton and Linn counties) who came through our doors on a weekly basis. Our members and our employees have become our second families, and the place has been bubbling with extra excitement as our competitive team was nearing state and regional finals. We had just made parking lot and facility improvements to accommodate our growing numbers and all in all things were going quite well. For us, along with surely many other businesses having to very abruptly halt services without a true end in sight … it’s an incredibly scary and saddening thing. We have baseline expenses to cover and nearly 30 employees who are suddenly mostly out of work. 

It is pretty amazing among the devastation to see the coming together of people near and far to do all they can to help others. Our members have been exceptional in supporting and encouraging us in many ways, and we are hopeful for this to pass swiftly and allow us to reopen and regrow our gym with us all as unscathed as possible!

The library director

Ashlee Chavez is the director of the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, which has branches in Alsea, Monroe and Philomath.

There is no doubt that with an extended library closure there now exists a large gap in services that cannot be filled. On average, nearly 1,800 community members make an in-person library visit to one of our branches each day. In a single month, we typically circulate over 130,000 items, fill about 28,000 holds and create anywhere between 300 to 500 new library cards. The library provides a place of free internet and computer access and a safe space for our most vulnerable population. Our resources are needed by families who are homeschooling. Lower income residents were counting on meeting with a tax aide representative for free tax filing assistance in our buildings. These are community members who desperately need their tax refunds and are not sure how to proceed otherwise. The library is an essential partner in working toward an accurate census count. There are so many things that libraries do for the community. If a public library is fulfilling their mission, then they are invaluable to the community at large.

You asked if anything has surprised me. In almost every crisis situation we’ve considered and talked about preparing for in the past, the library always had an essential role. Our library is often referenced as the heart of the community. Public libraries stay open during almost any crisis and can immediately shift into assisting with recovery efforts. They remain a place of hope and normalcy during even the worst of times. In almost any crisis – they help the community. In this circumstance – being open hurts more than it helps.

With an extended library closure facing us, we have a community hungry and eager for the work we do. I’m positive we can find new ways to serve them – even during these challenging times. There also might be community needs that aren’t typically ones we fulfill that we might be uniquely suited to assist with. I know we can find a way to lend hope to the community during these uncertain times.

Student resources

Nicole Hindes is an assistant director in Oregon State University’s Office of Student Life and runs the Human Services Resources Center, which assists students with food or housing issues.

We continue to help students, and we know that our work is more important than ever. We are receiving increased requests for service for food assistance, which is consistent with other pantries in our community.

In response to guidance from the Oregon Food Bank regarding best practices for food pantries – and being mindful of OSU’s social distancing measures – we closed the center to public access. We are distributing food to students and families utilizing social distancing practices from the back porch of the center.

Meanwhile, emergency housing is available for students in crisis. Other HSRC program services are being modified, such as providing SNAP support and basic needs support utilizing phone calls, e-mail, and remote meetings and conferencing re via zoom/phone.

We will likely provide textbook lending in future months utilizing delivery by mail, but we are figuring out some logistics on this.

The pandemic is providing a challenge for staff, but in the four years that I have been in this role, I have learned how important it is to be flexible and dynamic. That’s the way we train our team, and we rise to challenges every day. We are good at helping people get food. We are good at being there for people when they feel stressed, and we are good at creating and changing programs to meet the needs of our students and community.

We have an incredibly strong team that works together very well, and I have high confidence in the campus leadership..

Things that have surprised me? How valuable my Housing Opportunities Action Council-era relationships in the community. I know many of the folks who are on the “front line” of this assistance work in our community, and I’m grateful that there’s relationships between us that we will use to help each other.

What have I personally learned? How important it is to tune into folks emotional needs and offer reassurance, kindness and a laugh. I also have realized how important a strong “we’re all in this together” dynamic will be. Offering that commitment to folks as they come for food boxes has been powerful for me to see.”

The faith networks

Mike Moore is a retired home builder and contractor and public affairs rep for the Corvallis Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Clearly our lives have been altered or impacted in so many ways in such a very short time: Socially, emotionally, mentally, physically, financially and spiritually.

Many of us are feeling those impacts in a very real way.  Grocery shopping has become traumatic, job losses, shortages of medical supplies, etc. are making many of us nervous along with concern about the long-term economic and social impacts.

We are proactively seeking the peace that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ and knowledge that he still loves and cares for us. We will weather this storm with God’s help.

I am amazed by the service throughout the community to serve one another. To put another’s needs in front of our own. I am amazed how parents and families are figuring out ways to teach, care for, love and entertain children who are usually in school during the day. We have a resilient community!

Serving others is a great coping mechanism :-).  While we are all disappointed in the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are also well prepared and we are helping those who are in need.

Our church will soon be delivering four semi-truck loads of food to Western Oregon. One full load will be delivered to Linn Benton Food Share who will distribute the donated food to many distributors throughout the valley.

It’s hard to believe that it has only been a little over a week since many of these lifestyle restrictions have been enacted. Time will tell, but I am hopeful that our congregations and families will remain close knit and that our faith in Jesus Christ will actually grow and be strengthened.

Personally, I am experiencing something completely foreign to me.  I feel like I’ve never seen anything like it.  I don’t like it.  I’m finding ways to tolerate and respect what needs to be done to protect those around us.

I am surprised by the goodness of so many. I am surprised by the generosity of many. I am surprised by the fear that seems to have gripped us all by the throat. 

I have a daughter serving a mission for our church in Montreal.  She is scheduled to complete her 18-month mission in 3 weeks.  I am concerned about the Canadian border being closed, but believe it will work out. I’m concerned about my 80-year- old mother and my 28-year-old daughter, who has Down syndrome, contracting the virus.

I’m concerned about individuals and families who are vulnerable … not just vulnerable to the virus, but also the homeless and those who live from paycheck to paycheck.

The nonprofit

Melissa Carter-Goodrum runs the Corvallis branch of 100 People Who Care, which writes a check to a Benton County nonprofit each quarter. Members pledge to donate $100 per quarter.

We had so much momentum from our meeting in January and were really looking forward to our April meeting.  We were hoping to hit or exceed 100 members. That could still happen, but it's not going to happen face to face.  Many People Who Care groups around the country are holding their meetings virtually via Zoom or Facebook. Our steering team has decided not to do that for now.  We still want to keep our individual and group commitment to the Corvallis/Benton County community, though. 

Our plan is to have members write their second-quarter checks to a local nonprofit of their choice and then send all the checks to the steering team so we can tally and group all the checks.  Hopefully, we can deliver the checks to the nonprofits in person, but who knows what restrictions will be in place then?  With our current 70 members plus any new members, we'll be infusing at least $7,000 to local nonprofits -- monies they'll sorely be needing since many of them are cancelling their spring fundraising events.  

I’m surprised at how both simultaneously normal and not normal the situation is.  Since I'm retired, I go about my day as I like -- wake up, make coffee, go for walks, read, do email, cook dinner -- all perfectly normal.  At the same time, I'm worried about getting or giving the virus, wondering how long this craziness will last and how long it will take people and businesses to recover, and dreading the impact of the stock market tanking on my retirement portfolio. 

The mortgage lender

Van Melick is a senior mortage specialist with Directors Mortgage of Corvallis.

I think that it's practical to assume we will be seeing some impact to housing with what we are seeing in terms of short-term layoffs, but I have to believe that it will not be immediate. The severity and length of the situation will definitely determine any long-term effects on housing.

I have fielded a lot of questions about the Fed moving rates to zero, with many people thinking that mortgage rates should follow. It's important for people to understand that the Fed, in its usual capacity, doesn't set mortgage rates. When the Fed announced their first rate cut mortgage rates actually reacted negatively to that news.  For now, while we did see a drop interest rates in late February and early March, mortgage rates have been moving steadily upward.

That’s not to say the trend will continue. The federal government still has some tools at their disposal that may help rates but for right now it's clear that emotions and the present short-term technical factors are driving all markets.

As far as the situation in general I think myself and many others are finding the reaction to the virus perplexing and concerning. More than anything, it’s how quickly things have changed. It’s clear that fear is driving a lot of the consumer behavior we see. This is an unprecedented situation we are all in and I think that it would be helpful for us all to take stock of what’s important to each us.  While it appears that our healthcare system will be taxed like never before, if all it takes for us to mitigate this is to make sure we practice the prescribed social distancing protocols, then we should do that and give our health care professionals a fighting chance to minimize all the impacts.

On a personal level I have changed how I am interacting with clients and friends. To my knowledge I am not sick, but I am minimizing person to person contact for the reasons I stated above. Because testing is not broadly available, I would not want to put anyone in danger unwittingly. I am very happy to report that everyone has been very receptive to my cautious approach. We have so many ways to communicate with one another it’s much easier than I expected.  

The bookstores

Scott Givens owns the Browsers’ Bookstore shops in Albany and Corvallis.

The “community glue” of a bookstore is also a theoretical danger — so often people meet their old classmates, teachers, neighbors, church members, etc. Right now we don’t want the hug and handshake of a surprise meeting. Our stores in particular have an intentional appearance of disarray which encourages people to browse and poke around for a long time — another thing we don’t really want right now. 

I think we will be able to keep the stores open indefinitely, unless directed otherwise by the authorities, or unless I feel we are morally compelled to close for the sake of public health. I’m consumed by the moral responsibility of keeping the stores a safe place for customers and employees and the broader community. So far, a significant drop in foot traffic, combined with shoppers who are selecting books quickly, has allowed me to feel OK in staying open. We are washing the heck out of the counters, doors, other surfaces, and of course our hands to hopefully eliminate any contamination.

We’ve started offering free shipping within Oregon for any purchase of $15 or more. That’s had a good response, and people are relieved to be able to do it, even if it means they don’t get the fun of browsing through our store and looking at all the crazy books we get. This policy helps further reduce the foot traffic and potential contamination to/by the customer.

One of our biggest challenges is staffing. Right now we are down to one person in each store. Of course, during a crashing economy, we may not be able to afford more than that. Who knows?

I used to joke that by not washing my hands frequently I was building up my immunity to germs. I am now a huge germophobe and wash my hands constantly!

Two surprises. First, our online sales have dropped by a noticeable amount. I guess I would have thought that people would turn to online ordering, but I think the economy is so frightening, and layoffs already starting, and people are just cutting back. A fair portion of our online listings are more of the luxury type than the reading type of books, and it's very likely that people are reducing luxury expenditures.

The other surprise is how fragile our world economy is. Within a matter of a few weeks, the combination of a virus and the fear of that virus has almost dismantled the entire economic structure of our society. It seems incredible, but it has happened. I suspect that as we rebuild, the new economic structure will look different.

Coffee shop regular

William G. Robbins is a retired history professor at Oregon State University. He likes to work on his books in coffee shops.

Your questions are interesting, and, as you may guess, the governor’s has brought an end to my working in coffee shops.  For senior citizens, morning coffee shops in Corvallis are important social centers, places where people who share common interests meet to socialize.  

 The closure of the Beanery outlets on Second Street and Circle Boulevard upset regular gathering places for several groups of people that I would occasionally meet around town.  The regulars at the Circle Blvd. Bean gravitated to different places, some of them to the upstairs room in the Market of Choice.  

I have been a regular customer (working on my next book project) at Susan's Garden and Coffee Shop next to the First Alternative North Co-op store on 29th Street.  Before the governor's edict banning in-store seating, Susan's had already moved tables more than six feet apart and the baristas were practicing extra hygiene. Interesting times for one who always enjoys being up and about town and visiting with long-time friends.  

By the way, I whole-heartedly endorse the governor's decision to allow restaurants and pubs to do take-out only.

We live in a cul de sac with nearby neighbors who have 11 children, 10 of them age 7 and under.  On bright sunny days, the cul de sac is alive with children playing games, chalking the pavement, and having great fun, a special delight to my wife, Karla, because we have two grandchildren who would fit perfectly into such an environment.

As for me, I can get out for a hike on the trails just above our house where social distancing is not an issue

I've had varied and multifaceted experiences in life, especially during a four-year stint aboard aircraft carriers right out of high school, but nothing, including being aboard a carrier during the 1956 Suez crisis, compares with living amid the rapidly escalating COVID-19 pandemic.

The university administrator

Steve Clark is the vice president of university relations and marketing at Oregon State University.

The university is committed fully to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19. We are making full use of all requirements regarding social distancing by utilizing remote meeting technology, and requiring only the presence on campus of employees who serve critical functions.

We are making things work. We all understand the risk of COVID-19 to our faculty, staff and students and the communities we serve.

Our remote conference calls sometimes have as many as two or more dozen participants on a Zoom call who are working apart from each other. It is a very rare exception when critical top university administrators meet in person. When that occurs, social distancing and hygiene measures are employed.

I continue to be impressed with the incredible resilience, innovative spirit and collaboration of those I work with and serve. At this time, people are rallying to remain positive and help one another. It is amazing to see those qualities of helpfulness and hope among everyone I meet.

The rapid expansion of the risk and exposure of COVID-19 is stunning. We have to be equally resolved to engage always in full measures of public health and wellness, while maintaining the critical services that OSU provides in Benton and Linn counties, for our students and employees, for Oregonians statewide and people globally.

I have been very impressed by people’s tirelessness and spirit. It’s at times like these, that we see people dig even deeper to work harder and longer, and help others who are in need. That’s a great quality of Oregonians.

The shelter coordinator

Mike Jager leads the volunteers at the Corvallis men’s cold weather homeless shelter on Southeast Chapman Place.  

I was surprised by the way the men, staff and volunteers adapted to the risks the virus posed to folks living in close proximity at the shelter. We set up sanitization stations to be used upon entry, before food service, and though-out the time shared in the shelter.  

Men were encouraging - insisting - that all involved respected and adhered to best practices with respect to proximity, social distancing, hand washing, and sanitizing surfaces and coughing and sneezing (into elbows).  

Also, I am continually being surprised and impressed by the quick and comprehensive response to the virus by the shelter and partner organizations.

Finally, after notifying volunteers of our early closing date so many of them expressed regret that they could not visit, help and stay connected with our guests. Many offered to donate items or money to support the shelter, and partner organizations by proxy. 

The grandmother

Karla Robbins is the wife of Professor Robbins. During my exchanges with the professor she joined the email thread.

Bill and I have a son and daughter, both of whom reside in Bend. Our son’s profession takes him several states away, leaving his wife and 7-year-old son for many weeks at a time. This is the case as I write. Our daughter and her significant other have a 22-month-old baby boy.  Because the father is currently, but temporarily, working in Washington state, our daughter too, is fending for herself and the baby. 

So, Bill and I have two younger females in our family who are pretty much solo parenting at this time. And the schools are closed. But the mothers must work. So who cares for the little ones?  I do, and happily so. I feel honored to help with the grandchildren. To call it a labor of love is a bit dramatic, but I do confess to being quite tired at night!  I drove to Bend this past Sunday, though I return to Corvallis tomorrow for a break. Although I do not particularly enjoy driving, especially for three hours at a stretch, I will continue to travel across the passes for some time, now that schools are closed at least until the end of April. 

Our children are fortunate. Not every parent of school aged children (one of our grandchildren also attends preschool) has someone they can call on to help. Fortunately, I too am retired and can set aside some of my volunteer duties, household chores and a bit of gardening to tend to the children.

Postscripts

Grandfather Curtis Wright has added to his previous submission: My wife, Jo Ann, is proposing to our son and daughter-in-law that we do a “drive through” visit. We drive over there, staying in the car. They come outside in their driveway, and we talk/visit through closed car windows.

Roger Nyquist advised the newspaper late Friday night that he does not intend to open Lakeshore Lanes on Monday because of the likelihood of a further order from Gov. Brown that would order all non-essential businesses closed.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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