Volume XX | Issue 2 | Fall 2020
Columbia Theater in St. Helens came up with an innovative way to survive when COVID-19 shut down theaters across the state — drive-up popcorn sales. Photo: Eric Slade

Innovative approaches

Businesses and neighborhoods find ways to respond

Challenging times often bring out the best in people, as they respond to the needs in their communities. Here are three of the many stories that surfaced as businesses, neighborhoods and regions worked together to deal with the pandemic.

‘It was a game changer for us’

Last March, popular craft distillery Denny Bar started giving away bottles of product to its rural Siskiyou County neighbors. The two-ounce bottles weren’t full of the hand-crafted spirits the historic Etna distillery is known for. It was something even more sought after — hand sanitizer.

Denny Bar in Etna, California, switched from producing hand-crafted spirits to hand sanitizer to help alleviate the shortage caused by COVID-19.

During the height of hand sanitizer shortages, the distillery took advantages of relaxed state regulations to switch from making high-proof spirits to making ethanol. Distillers followed World Health Organization recommendations to craft a Denny Bar-branded hand sanitizer, which included the corn-based ethanol, glycerol and ingredients such as aloe vera and lavender oil.

The distillery created its first batch of 400 bottles in mid-March and gave them all away to an appreciative community. “It was in very high demand, and we got a lot of positive feedback,” says Lance Banks, Denny Bar’s marketing manager. 

Employees spent about two months busily making the sanitizer and filling orders from across the country, at a time when the company’s other business was stagnant. 

“It was a game changer for us,” Banks says.  “When the restaurant and everything else slowed down, to be able to keep employees employed and keep the lights on was a lifesaver.”

Other distilleries also joined the effort. Hood River Distillers, for example,  produced about 12,000 gallons of alcohol-based hand sanitizer at its Clear Creek Distillery. The company worked with the Oregon Health Authority to distribute the product to those on the front lines of the health care and food service industries throughout the state.

‘This isn’t about popcorn’ 

Owners of the hometown favorite Columbia Theater in St. Helens came up with an innovative way to survive when COVID-19 shut down theaters across the state — drive-up popcorn sales. The community support was immediate. 

On opening night, some people waited for an hour to buy $5 buckets of popcorn. Over the next few weeks, popcorn sales totaled as many as 400 buckets a night.

“The support and the love that they showed this theater, that they wanted it to be here, it’s overwhelming,” co-owner Leah Tillotson told Oregon Public Broadcasting. OPB produced a short video about the theater. 

“It’s not about the popcorn, it’s about the community,” said one patron.

‘There’s got to be something that we can do to help' 

A pair of Oregon Institute of Technology students decided to spend their spring break doing something to benefit the medical community. Mechanical engineering students Davia Fleming and Jacob Allemann, aided by several of their professors, began producing face shields and respirator adapters to provide to hospitals in Oregon. 

The pair worked from their homes with 3D printers supplied by the school to print the medical items, producing about 130 protective shields for frontline medical workers and more than 100 adapters, which enabled machines that treat sleep apnea to be converted into ventilators. 

“We’re an engineering school, so I thought that there’s got to be something that we can do to help,” says Fleming, a senior at Oregon Tech’s Portland-Metro campus in Wilsonville.  

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