Oregon District undeterred after mass shooting

Credit: Ismail Turay Jr.

Credit: Ismail Turay Jr.

The Oregon District mass shooting hasn’t scared away the crowds that frequent the nearly 100 local businesses in the historic downtown neighborhood and entertainment hub.

On the cusp of one of the district’s biggest annual events, Hauntfest, the Dayton Daily News interviewed business owners, neighbors, patrons, police and local leaders to assess how the area has fared since the Aug. 4 mass shooting.
They told the newspaper that the community has become closer, business owners are working together more, communication with police is stronger and residents have become more active.

“We were a community before this happened,” said Natalie Skilliter, treasurer of the Oregon District Business Association and owner/general manager of the Corner Kitchen restaurant. “We have strengthened our bonds as a community since it happened. The whole ‘Dayton Strong’ sentiment, I think is so beautiful and true.”

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Business owners have reported a slight boost in traffic during the day, said Kyle Babirad, president of the business association and owner of Canary consulting firm. However, the nighttime crowds might be slightly down, he said.

“We are trying to push as hard as we can to let people know that it’s safe here, and that people are still coming out here,” said Babirad, who also lives in the Oregon District.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she’s seen support across the region for the district, whether that’s shopping, going to dinner or meeting friends there.

“We’ve gone through a lot of crises in Dayton, but the shooting is one where I’ve never seen something like this that has actually made a part of the community stronger, and I think that will last quite a long time,” Whaley said.

Economically strong

The district consists of a mixture of locally owned restaurants, boutiques, pubs, advertising agencies, actuaries, book publishers and the like. The types of businesses there have expanded in the past three to five years, Skilliter said. Combined, the nearly 100 businesses there employ up to 1,500 people, she said.

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Occupancy in the district is about 95%, with two uninhabitable buildings at the moment. It’s unclear how much tax revenue Oregon District businesses generate annually, because the city of Dayton does not track that figure by location.

About 350 people live in the district, said Ken Wilson, president of the Oregon Historic District Society, which serves as the neighborhood association.

The overall downtown Dayton area, which includes the Oregon District, attracts about 7.5 million people per year, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. The organization doesn’t track the number of people specific sections of downtown attracts.

“The Oregon District has evolved over time, and it is a unique destination in our city,” Gudorf said. “I’ve seen it transform in the last 15 years, and economically, it’s as strong as I’ve seen it in a long time. That speaks to the kind of businesses, and the commitment that those businesses have to work together and continue to grow as the city’s premier entertainment district.”

In the days after the shooting, people came to the Oregon District in large numbers to support businesses and to pay their respects to victims. 
Then three weeks after the shooting, comedian and Greene County resident Dave Chappelle hosted the star-studded Gem City Shine to bring the community together and raise money for victims and survivors. The event brought more than 30,000 people to the Oregon District.

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The concert attracted a diverse group of people from across the city, some of whom might not have been regulars, said Bethany Ramsey, owner of Puff Apothecary, a natural hair boutique and studio. Many of those people have continued visiting, she said.

Ramsey hopes this will open the door to more businesses and entertainment that reflect the city’s diversity.

“After the mass shooting, and of course, Gem City Shine, I feel like those have in some ways opened” people’s eyes about what the district has to offer, said Ramsey, who is also an Oregon District resident. “It’s put it on people’s minds who didn’t really think about coming to the district or perhaps had a different impression.”

‘The vibe is coming back’

Shondale Atkinson owns Serendipity Community Care, which provides medical marijuana cards and is located next to Ned Peppers, where the shooting occurred. She noticed a significant decline in her business immediately after the attack.

Prior to the shooting, the business attracted up to 20 customers per day. Now, she averages five customers per day, said Atkinson, whose store was riddled with bullet holes.

“I’ve had a lot of calls from (customers) who have asked, ‘Is it OK to come down there? I’m nervous about coming down there, can we come meet you somewhere else to get our cards?’” said Atkinson, who opened her business in early July.

She remains optimistic, saying it’s only a matter of time before her business picks back up.

Some bars, such as Toxic Brew, have not seen a decline in business, said Tyler Gilcher, the pub’s manager and partner. Summers and holidays are typically busier, he said, and that trend has continued this year. The brewery has had customers come in from out of town, and people “come show us love.”

“There’s plenty of people that understand (the shooting was) an isolated incident that could happen anywhere,” Gilcher said.

Emily Adducchio, a Beavercreek native who now lives in Farmersville, said her friends meet in the Oregon District about once a month to have dinner and get drinks. She made it a point to go to there the week after the shooting to show support and mourn the nine people who died, Adducchio said.

Photos of Gem City Shine in Oregon District in Dayton

On a damp Friday night in late September, friends Autumn Metzger and DarRion Berry stood on the patio of Toxic Brew with about 50 other patrons, as two women danced while twirling flaming batons to music blaring from a speaker.

Metzger and Berry, both of Dayton, are regulars at Toxic Brew. They were standing in nearly the same spot they were on the night of the mass shooting when they saw the chaos unfold.

The bloodshed has not deterred them from going to the district. They even go more frequently now, although in the initial days after the shooting a few of their friends stayed away.

“But now the vibe is coming back,” Berry said. “I’ve been able to get a certain amount of people down here to hang out.”

Since the shooting, he’s made it a point to have the “time of my life” and support the Oregon District because it was an isolated incident. He’s determined to spread love.

“(Mass shootings) can happen anywhere. It can happen at a church, it can happen at a hospital. But this is one place we didn’t expect it to happen, and I feel like that’s what hit us the hardest,” he said.


In addition to the existing police presence, the Oregon District Business Association plans to have security cameras installed throughout the area by the end of the year, Babirad said. The project, which was in the works before the mass shooting, also includes adding free Wi-Fi.

Since the shooting, there were a total of four disturbance calls in the district in August and September, compared to 12 during the same period in 2018, said Lt. James Mullins, commander of the central patrol district.

Within 30 seconds of the shooter opening fire, six Dayton police officers engaged and killed him, saving possibly hundreds of lives, police officials have said. The officers’ quick action can be attributed to their vigilance, training and the significant police presence that’s always in the district, Mullins said.

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Their actions is also an indication that the department’s security plan for the district is effective, he said. So there won’t be any major changes in the way they patrol the area, he said, but they will modify the plan as necessary.

The six officers have since returned to work, Mullins said, and are performing their regular duties again. They are coping as well as can be expected, Mullins said, adding that police officers are better equipped to deal with trauma than civilians.

“They’re all trying to get back to normal. It’s been tough for everybody to get back to normal, or some sense of what normal is,” he said.

Many of the Oregon District employees who were working the night of the mass shooting also are still affected. Some get startled when they hear loud noises such as fireworks and sirens, Whaley testified to Congress in September.

“Unless you’ve been affected by violence in your family or your community, you don’t know the effects of trauma,” Skilliter said, her voice trembling. “This impact is being experienced by those of us who live and work in the district, we’re all alike. And so the trauma of that event has stayed with a lot of people.”

There’s still so a lot healing to do, Skilliter said.

Whaley is optimistic and encouraged by the way the community has rallied together.

“The city is gritty and resilient, and the people of Dayton take care of each other, and they’ve been doing that over the past few months, and I think they’ll continue to,” Whaley said.

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