The popular Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, an Ashland fixture for 25 years, will close its doors in late July.

The restaurant is reaching the end of its lease, and the building owners are substantially upping the rent, according to owner Susan Chester. She added that she has been in the restaurant business long enough, 40 years, and wants to travel and find a new direction in life.

The Black Sheep has been on the market for several months, at $79,900, with all the furnishings and fixtures, but a buyer would need to negotiate a new lease, she said. There have been some inquiries, but no takers yet.

“There’s been a big outcry about it closing,” Chester said. “It’s been beloved by the community. It’s very sad and bittersweet, a great loss to Ashland. I wanted to create a loving, tolerant place, and it’s been that. There’s no place like it, though others have tried to create places like it.

“But I’m ready to move on. I want to clear my mind and go visit my daughter in Florida and a friend in Australia. It’s nice, the response from people, though.”

Rich with the vibes of a London public house, the Black Sheep sported darts, a Sunday Celtic music session, aerial dancing on silks on First Fridays, a red British phone booth (not working), fireplace, comfy couch, and a second-floor view of the Plaza and mountains.

The restaurant is in the old Odd Fellows building, built in 1879.

“It’s been the living room of Ashland for 25 years," said her agent, real estate broker Greg Gobelt of Royce Real Estate. "It’s her thing and her vibe. It was her gumption, tenacity and spitfire energy to keep any business going that long, especially a restaurant. We hope everyone comes in to visit her and support her by having dinner.”

Chester came to Ashland by a series of flukes, some of them painful. A Chicago native, she was set to enter medical school when a near-fatal car crash put her in the hospital for several months — enough to prod her not to repeat that setting. Some of her family migrated to Ashland and encouraged her to come here.

On her Facebook, Chester wrote, “Our big, red doors will close to the public one final time. (Thanks) for the years of support and patronage, along with my many loyal and talented employees for their skills, dedication and delightful personalities. I have much love for you all and my heart is overwhelmed with gratitude that my dream was realized, that I was able to share it with all of you, and that it provided so much cheer, joy and laughter for so many.”

The Black Sheep is bedecked by a photo gallery of patrons, gathered over the years, as well as art and other memorabilia — which will be auctioned off to give Chester more funds for future dreams.

The final days, July 22-23, she said, will be the “grand closing celebration.”

She added on Facebook, “The Flock has begun planning our Grand Closing Farewell Celebration … so that we may enjoy our multitude of shared memories together. We realize that The Black Sheep has been a special place for our patrons and employees over the years, and we would like to be able to include everyone in our final farewell celebration.”

A representative of the corporation that owns the space, BCMTH, LLC, indicated there are currently no plans for use of the space after Black Sheep closes.

— John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.