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Published: Saturday, August 10, 2019 @ 12:05 AM
DAYTON — The Oregon District is a safe place, but it may have to win back some people’s confidence after the deadly shooting spree one week ago, according to city officials, district workers and business owners.
The district finds out this weekend how comfortable people are returning to the scene of one of Ohio’s largest mass shootings during the same late-night hours when nine people were killed and dozens more were injured.
The Dayton Police Department is beefing up security in the district to give visitors, workers and residents a heightened sense of safety.
Dayton police Major Wendy Stiver, commander of the central operations patrol division, said police have had an enhanced presence all week long, which was needed because of increased foot traffic and visitors. The police presence will increase at night.
“We will have higher staffing tonight and tomorrow night, and I’ll be down here personally to make sure everybody feels safe down here,” she said Friday.
Many people say 30 seconds of horrific violence will not stop them from coming back to and relishing the district they love.
But not everyone has the same resolve, and it’s unclear whether the extra measures will help some community members overcome lingering feelings of anxiety, sorrow and fear.
The Oregon District is one of the safest places in the city, even though people sometimes drink too much and get out of hand, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
There is an ample police presence on Friday and Saturday nights to ensure things go smoothly, especially when the bars let out and the crowds need to disburse, Whaley said.
“This is as safe of a place as anywhere else where there’s people,” she said.
But Sunday morning’s bloodshed has people who live, work and play in the district wondering if the tragedy will cast a shadow over Fifth Street.
Stiver declined to share exact policing strategy to keep it unpredictable for visitors.
She said she’s been the commander of the downtown patrol division for three years and crime downtown, especially violent crime, is so low.
“It’s an incredibly safe environment,” she said. “This was a highly unusual event, as you all know, and it’s no way indicative of the type of crime we see downtown on a regular basis.”
Certainly, many people have made a point this week to visit the Oregon District to dine, drink and shop.
Some businesses have seen increased foot traffic this week during hours that are usually pretty slow.
Residents from across the region have been buying and wearing “Dayton Strong” shirts. Pride in Dayton and the Oregon District perhaps has never been higher, according to residents and workers.
“I think we will see a good number of people downtown,” said Natalie Skilliter, manager of Corner Kitchen and treasurer of the Oregon District Business Association. “From my business perspective, this week in terms of volume feels like when there is a show at the Schuster Center — not at all overwhelming, but business certainly has picked up.”
But the weekend typically is when the Oregon really comes alive, and the late-night scene is a very different experience than the weekday and daytime hours.
On Friday and Saturday night, the Oregon District will more closely resemble what it was like when the shooting happened, which could be difficult for some to handle.
Still, Oregon District regulars and workers say they expect fairly big crowds this weekend, in large part because they believe people will want to come out and show their love. For many, coming back to the area has been cathartic.
Others, however, say they aren’t ready yet to revisit what they last remember as a terrible crime scene.
Dutch Woods II, who was struck by gunfire in the arm, spent most of his weekends in the Oregon at Ned Peppers and Newcom’s Tavern.
But Woods says he does not know if and when he’ll return to the the district. Woods said he thinks he is done going out after this traumatic experience.
Aislinn Gooden and Valerie Kowalski visited the Oregon District a day after the shooting, when businesses reopened. They said they planned to take special trips to make it to the district to show their support.
Kowalski, 28, said she thinks it could take time for people to feel completely comfortable coming to the district, especially at night.
Gooden said their friends were planning a special night out to show their support for local restaurants and bars.
Businesses are hopeful that people will come together in the district to show support and try to help each other heal.
Skilliter does not believe the shooting will change people’s leisure time activities and behaviors and weekend routines.
“I think this weekend will be busy,” she said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of people.”