The Barn Light’s Beacon to Downtown Revival
article by Sarah Koski | Executive Director, Love For Lane County
” We made the mistake of coming and looking at The Barn Light and just falling in love with the site.”
In 2012, co-owners Thomas Pettus-Czar and Mark Sheppard had a vision; to create a downtown coffeehouse and bar in the heart of Kesey Square, operating as a meeting place for some of the brightest minds in technology and business innovation. The aesthetic and décor of the new downtown meeting center was as unique as the conversations and clientele. To us, it was known to us as The Barn Light, but to the many tourists and outsiders exploring the Downtown Eugene town square, it was a rare glimpse into the psyche of our vibrant and rich Pacific Northwest way of life.
Then, after eight years of operation, Pettus-Czar and Sheppard decided to close the establishment to focus on other ventures. The Barn Light’s destiny was at the hands of an uncertain times, with restaurant shut downs, long-time industry retirements, and mandated state-wide COVID protections. What once was the vibrant, rich cultural corner of our beloved town was now a quiet specter of local celebrations, music festivals, and outdoor gatherings.
Yet, thanks to 25-year industry veterans and former restaurateurs Karen and Eric Nelson, The Barn Light is now under a second wave of leadership with open doors, full staff, and warm smiles. “We had no intention of opening another bar at least not during the pandemic,” Karen explained. “Originally we weren’t going to act on it right away. We had some other businesses ideas that we had been looking at, but we made the mistake of coming and looking at The Barn Light and just falling in love with the site.” The Seaside, Oregon natives moved to Eugene to be closer to family, although originally intending to be retired from the hospitality sector, both made the decision to purchase their new downtown location as something to do during the shutdown.
“After the second shut down in November, we were honestly too bored of doing nothing. We wanted to get back out and move forward. We have days where we question if it’s the right thing to do, but we were excited for things to start getting back to normal and for people feeling comfortable to get out again.”
It’s with this vision and determination that Karen and Eric are renovating the site and slowly adding more features and programs. “We’ve added food items, put in new visual platforms with televisions, will soon bring back karaoke, and starting in June, the third Sunday of every month Beards ‘n Mimosas, brunch show.” The husband and wife team are also both so encouraged by the local community support and are excited for the future.
As fulltime manager-owners onsite, they value good leadership, hospitable employees, and an infrastructure tailored to tourism and economic recovery. Her final thoughts in how to be a great local business center around her time in Seaside as a tourist destination. “That’s definitely a positive for us,” Karen adds. “Being able to use that experience in helping our employees be ambassadors for Eugene in terms of everything there is to do here. We are constantly getting people in here who ask us, ‘where is a good place to hike,’ or ‘where is a good place to go and get Thai food.’”
“I think being really educated in your community is what’s going to help most in making tourists and out-of-towners feel a part of our community.”