Philomath McDonald's

James Lillard completes an order at a self-ordering kiosk while Natalie Lillard looks on last week at McDonald's in Philomath.

BRAD FUQUA, PHILOMATH EXPRESS

The Philomath business community has seen changes over the past several months with various retail stores relocating, others coming into town from somewhere else and at least one major remodeling project. To complete the look, a few dilapidated structures have even disappeared.

"We have a fairly low vacancy rate right now," Philomath City Manager Chris Workman said last week. "We don't have the empty store frontages like we had even three or four years ago. Things are filled up pretty good right now ... There are some that haven't been able to fill but for the most part, things are moving pretty good."

One of the most visible changes could be seen with a five-week remodeling project at McDonald's. Behind the scenes, there had been an ownership change that returned the fast-food restaurant to the Seaman family.

Donald Seaman, who died in 2009, was the original owner of the McDonald's in Philomath when it opened in the mid-1990s. But a McDonald's corporate policy put limits on out-of-town owners and the Seamans live in Salem. As a result, it had to be sold but the restaurant never strayed too far from the family.

"The gentleman who bought it from us lived two blocks from my father in Salem ... then he sold it to Sal Muscardin, who now lives in my father's house," said Michael Seaman, who was a minority owner of the restaurant when it opened and now co-owns it with his wife, Kerri. "We turned the market around, opened the store, always loved it, had to sell it and now the opportunity came to get this and I bought it back."

Nowadays, that old corporate policy doesn't apply for those who test well as a strong organization. Michael Seaman said he's even been offered stores as far away as Idaho and Washington. So, the Philomath location is no longer an issue.

As for the remodel, McDonald's has been implementing a nationwide "Experience of the Future" initiative, which includes high-tech additions such as self-ordering kiosks in the lobby.

"A lot of people think the kiosks are there to save labor, but they're not," Seaman said. "It's really just allowing us to do additional things with the people we have."

Employees, which number 30 to 35 at the local McDonald's, have additional duties, such as bringing food to diners with table-location technology. It's all part of the chain's efforts to provide a more personalized experience. Still to come will be digital menu boards for drive-through customers.

The restaurant reopened Oct. 11 and a grand reopening is expected in the coming days.

Around town

Elsewhere around Philomath, various businesses have been on the move. Les & Bob's, which has been working out of its Chapel Drive location for 20 years, relocated sales this past spring into a downtown location at 1204 Main St.

"It's going to be good for us," Les and Bob's owner Jay Faxon said. "We don't have it all done yet but it's more visibility. With the move, we've expanded into business promotional (items) like mugs, pins, not just hats and garments anymore."

Faxon said production continues at the Chapel Drive warehouse. Les & Bob's employs eight full-time employees with one part-time.

In mid-August, the Clip Joint moved into its new location at 1112 Applegate St., after 17 years in its former spot on the west end of town. Tina Lohman heads up operation with longtime barber Mel Young still cutting hair.

"I like the location," Lohman said. "We had been tucked in the corner back over there (100 S. Eighth St.)."

Young, who is in his 80s, operated Mel's Barbershop in Corvallis for 30-plus years before relocating to Philomath in 2000.

Musical Supply Direct, a musical instrument and equipment fulfillment business, moved this past spring into the former Gateway Gallery location at 1233 Main St. The business got its start in 2009 as the online division of Gracewinds Music, which closed in Corvallis this past January.

Travis Oefelein owns the business, which at this time is not a retail operation. An employee there said last week that there could be plans to establish a small guitar shop on site. In addition to the owner, Musical Supply Direct employs three others, one full-time and two part-time.

Meanwhile, out on the west end of town, Nectar Creek's construction project continues with a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on, co-owner Nick Lorenz said. The 7,500-square-foot production facility will include a taproom and restaurant.

Lorenz said the business currently has eight full-time employees but plans to at least double that number upon its completed move to Philomath. An opening date is to be determined.

Elsewhere, a new restaurant called The Dizzy Hen will be coming to the former CD&J Cafe space on the corner of Main and South 13th streets. Dave Alba purchased the building and former Gathering Together Farms chef JC Mersmann will head up the restaurant operation. Work is ongoing in the building but Alba said there is no target date yet for a possible opening.

The Arc Thrift Store will be moving to the east end of town when remodeling wraps up at its new building at 110 N. 20th St. The Arc of Benton County store has been at its 936 Main St., location for more than 35 years. Work on that site includes landscaping out front to create a buffer between the parking lot and sidewalk, and a "sensory garden" with flowers on the east side of the property.

Bashful Bob's Windows and Doors has been in the process of trying to build a production facility at Mill Pond Industrial Park to move its operation from Corvallis. Currently, there is a small office just east of where the new building will be located.

The Mobil gas station on Main Street is under new ownership. A Mexican food restaurant on site has remained open.

Del's Feed and Farm Supply had announced its plans to close Oct. 28. There have reportedly been efforts for another ownership group to take over, but nothing has been announced.

Eyesores gone

Beyond those examples of business changes in town, there has also been an effort to clear out some dilapidated buildings.

"I feel like in town we've been getting more requests to be demolishing old buildings and stuff rather than beginning new stuff coming in," Workman said. "But that's the first step. You have to clear those older buildings out, the ones that haven't been kept up as well and are at the end of the life cycle and need to be replaced."

For example, an old house that had fallen into disrepair on Main Street near Wells Fargo went down. Workman said he believes the owner has no immediate plans for the property.

Further on down Main Street, the former auto repair shop building was demolished in recent weeks. Denny Nusbaum owns the property at the corner of Main and 14th and has it up for sale.

Another eyesore building that came down was located on the corner of Main and 15th. The small pink building, which in the past housed a burger joint and La Rockita before its move down the block, had been vacant.

As for Philomath's low vacancy rate, it's rare for any community to have no vacant buildings at all. But it's those old eyesores that catch the attention of city managers and neighboring business owners.

"I get concerned about the ones that have been empty for a long time," Workman said. "It usually indicates that something's off, either the asking price is too much or the location's poor or parking's an issue, something like that."

Workman said that in his discussions with business owners through Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce meetings and such, he feels things are going well. There was a lot of concern over the summer with the construction project causing access issues, but Workman feels it was completed in good time.

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