Oregon District looks ahead: ‘A lot of people just want to do something’

Oregon District business owners have been overwhelmed by support since a mass shooting early Sunday, and many now are focused on this weekend as a time for healing and trying to “get back to normal,” according to one owner.

Natalie Skilliter is treasurer of the Oregon District Business Association and co-owner of Corner Kitchen.

“People have been showing up in droves. It’s heartwarming to see and feel all this love,” Skilliter said. “We want to get back to the business of running our businesses.”

Skilliter said she and other owners were especially touched by people hoping to help out in some way. Skilliter said people can donate to the Dayton Foundation's fund for the shooting victims, continue supporting the Oregon District businesses or sign up to volunteer at various activities the Oregon District has going on.

>> MORE: Ned Peppers opens, aims to give customers ‘normalcy’

“I know a lot of people just want to do something,” Skilliter said.

One of those people is Annette Gibson-Strong. Each morning, she goes to the memorial for the nine people killed and cleans it. Every evening she makes sure each candle is lit.

Gibson-Strong said she knows what it is like to lose a child. Her own son was murdered 27 years ago.

She wants to keep the memorial out for as long as possible, so others can remember the victims for who they were.

“I do it for the parents,” Gibson-Strong said.

MORE: Crosses for each victim line street

Nine people were murdered and at least 37 were injured when 24 year-old gunman Connor Betts opened fire in the popular entertainment district early Sunday morning.

Nearly a week later, the blood has been washed from East Fifth Street and the blinking red and blue lights of police cars have been replaced with red and blue balloons at memorials for the nine victims.

The two biggest formed at the front door of Ned Peppers Bar and Hole in the Wall next door. Dayton residents continue to add to them.

Earlier Thursday, Gibson-Strong put out a call for help getting rolls of plastic to cover the memorial. With rain in the forecast, she wanted to make sure the memorial wasn’t ruined.

Thanks to other Daytonians it wasn’t.

“I don’t have the money to buy all the plastic,” Gibson-Strong said. “I need to preserve it.”

Amanda Duritsch heard the call. She was scrolling through Twitter when she saw someone needed help covering the memorials, so she brought window plastic she had lying around the house.

“I just wanted to help,” Duritsch said.

Later, the staff at Ned Peppers bought tarps to cover the memorials. The Red Cross also brought tarps. Gibson-Strong and Duritsch worked together to put down the plastic and tarps, gingerly moving items to positions they thought would be most protected.

MORE: Ned Peppers bouncer: ‘I would’ve died before that guy came in’

Jon Neidert owns the building next door to Ned Peppers. One of his windows was hit with a bullet or shrapnel, cracking and putting a hole in two places. People put sticky notes on his window and flowers into the holes.

He’s getting it replaced today.

“I don’t know what to do with the window,” Neidert said. “I don’t think I can throw it away. People seem to be gravitating toward it, and there are so many positive messages on there.”

Neidert has owned the building since 1996. He’s originally from Kettering, but moved to Ft. Myers, Florida. He just happened to be in town doing maintenance on his building the weekend the shooting happened. Neidert said he’ll make a decision on what to do with the damaged window when the repairmen get there.

“I might just store it until I can find a good home for it,” Neidert said. “It needs to go to the right person.”

Neidert said Wednesday, when people came to the Oregon District to protest President Donald Trump’s visit, was a hateful day.

With all of the national media and other people coming into the neighborhood, Neidert just felt frustrated.

“I honestly just wish all of these people would leave so that the neighborhood could heal,” Neidert said.

But through all the crowds on Wednesday, he looked across the street and saw a man with a French bull dog. Three little kids gathered around the small dog, petting it.

“It’s going to sound so crazy to say, but it was just so normal. It was so nice to see something normal right now,” Neidert said.

Neidert wasn’t in the Oregon District when the shooting happened, but said he plans to have a beer at Ned Peppers before going back to Ft. Myers, “just to support the place.”

Ned Peppers and other neighboring businesses have received an outpouring of support from friends near and far.

A woman from new Jersey had a large bouquet of flowers delivered to the bar on Thursday afternoon. The bar received several other package, from flowers to cookies to fruit.

In Heart Mercantile, owner Kait Gilcher received a bag of healthy snacks from parishioners at Vineyard Northwest in Cincinnati.

“We just want to show people here that they are loved in all of this,” said Joe Sayre, from the church.

>> Weekend events planned to benefit victims and survivors of shooting

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