Coronavirus and Sumpter, Oregon

Marijuana shops were declared essential early on, our rental cabins also never had to close, so there hasn’t really been much change to my day-to-day working life in this crisis.

A year ago this weekend, I began working at a restaurant (since shuttered), managing four 420-friendly rental cabins, and working at a marijuana dispensary as part of becoming a co-owner of those three properties located in the small mountain town of Sumpter, Oregon.

There are only about two hundred people in this town. There are only a few economic engines here:

  • Flea Market – the town swells to a couple thousand on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day Weekends;
  • Tourism – this town was home to a gold rush in the 19th century and a state park featuring a mining dredge and a narrow gauge railroad to it bring tourists from around the region; it’s also a great area for mountain biking, ATV riding, snowmobiling, hunting, and fishing; and
  • Marijuana – it’s one of only two towns in the county that allows legal marijuana shops, and I’m operating one of the two in this town.

The only businesses in town are the two marijuana shops, two bars that serve basic bar food, a general store, a single-pump gas station, two motels, three galleries/museums, and the rental cabins I manage.

Coronavirus has closed about half of the town. The Flea Markets are canceled, the bars are closed, and the state park is closed. The two pot shops are open as is the general store and the motels, but there isn’t much business for the latter.

At the pot shop, though? Business has been decent, considering. Of course, if you’re forced to quarantine at home, marijuana is the perfect thing to have.

It will be interesting to see how much the pandemic affects this little town. They’re still pulling in the 3% city marijuana tax from us and our rental properties / motels still pay the county a 7% lodging tax. But things were economically tight here before the virus took out summer tourism. We couldn’t generate enough business in 2019 to keep the restaurant open; I don’t know how the two bars are going to survive.

I’m just happy to still be working. Marijuana shops were declared essential early on, so we never had to close. It’s funny, some marijuana opponents are upset that dispensaries are open and churches are closed. But that’s what happens when the state drives the medical marijuana market into the recreational marijuana system – now that there is no such thing as a purely medical marijuana dispensary in Oregon, you can’t close the recreational pot shops without cutting patients off from their medicine.

Our rental cabins also never had to close, as you can only book them for two people, so no risk of social contamination. We did institute a 48-hour block between rentals so we can perform a thorough cleaning, but otherwise, there hasn’t really been much change to my day-to-day working life in this crisis.

I know one thing for sure: I timed moving out of Portland, Oregon, just about perfectly!