Tony Ahern
   The last two to three years have been tough on the Madras business community. After surging in the mid-1990s, commercial construction has stood still. More businesses, it seemed, were closing than opening. The announced closure of Hatfield's Department Store this spring proved a final boulder in the landslide of negative news.
   But maybe things are looking up. Is that rumblings of a Renaissance I hear? If it's not a full-scale rebound going on at least it's some progress in spite of a less-than-electric economy.
   While the impending departure of Hatfeild's is a staggering blow, Historic Downtown Madras appears prepped to stay on its feet. Opal Day Spa's investment and remodel is wonderful to see, and will be a fine addition. A retail shop is preparing to move into the site Snap Shots vacated when it moved to Sixth and B street. Interesting ideas have been bantered about for the Hatfield's site. While so far nothing is in the hand, hopefully this anchor building of Historic Downtown Madras will draw a tenant (or tenants) that will be beneficial to downtown neighbors and the entire community.
   Meanwhile, work has started at the incubator industry site north of Madras, across from the city industrial park; Les Schwab Tire Center is building one of its chain's largest retail stores at the former Safeway site north of town; and word is that the town newspaper is in the early stages of constructing a new building that could be up by year's end. On the more distant horizon, the Opportunity Foundation is moving forward with its ambitious project on B Street at the former Main Street Garage site, which will be a fantastic addition to downtown; and Deschutes County developers are planning a nice business office complex at the old Texaco site south of Dick Dodson's.
   Public sector activity is leading this bullish charge. The county's parking lot redesign at the courthouse will be a major beautifier of downtown Madras. The city annexation and improvement at the industrial park should lead to more business development, while the 509-J school district and Mt. View Hospital are both in the midst of expansion-remodel projects.
   As our population continues to inch upward and interest rates inch downward, development will continue, and the Madras business community should grow.
   Make no mistakes, though, many businesses are still struggling to maintain sales and profit levels they claimed a few short years ago. Survival is still a tough battle, especially for most retail outlets. The local economy is still not out of the woods.
   However, now it seems that instead of being lost in the woods, we're merely camping.
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