From the bustling towns of Lebanon, Hanover, and Claremont to peaceful, smaller communities like New London, the Dartmouth–Lake Sunapee Region has a trove of independent retailers — like Clarke’s Hardware, above — with deep local roots and a warm welcome for visitors.
Photo Credit : Gwengoat/iStock
Learn more about how New Hampshire’s Main Street businesses are caring for their customers in our “Support Local: Go the Extra Mile” series, a collection of articles and videos spotlighting nearly two dozen locally owned inns, restaurants, and shops across the state. Sponsored by the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism.
At the beginning of this year, in the heart of the New Hampshire winter, Yankee began visiting with locally owned businesses in every region of the Granite State to hear how they were doing in this era like no other. And what we found — from backcountry outfitters and rural B&Bs to city shops and restaurants — was a reminder of what makes New Hampshire so special. We are small but strong. We are resilient in tough times. And we go the extra mile for one another.
Of the roughly 96 percent of New Hampshire employers that are small businesses, many of the hardest hit by the pandemic are those in dining, lodging, and retail and services: the heart of Main Street. Without the resources of big box stores and national chains, they have gone above and beyond to keep customers safe in uncertain times.
“I think that a lot of the businesses up here were quick to get [safety] policies in place when the recommendations came out,” says Tom Caron, co-owner of Pittsburg’s Tall Timber Lodge and the Rainbow Grille & Tavern, which had to tackle Covid precautions on both the lodging and dining side. “After all, it might be difficult to attract and keep customers coming back if they don’t feel safe at your business. We have received a lot of positive feedback from our guests concerning what we have done in regards to their safety, which was great to hear.”
There seemed to be no end to the variety of changes that New Hampshire businesses have made to give customers peace of mind. At Rosewood Country Inn in Bradford, guest rooms were left vacant for three days in between visitors. G.Willikers! Books & Toys in Portsmouth lowered its inventory to create more space in the aisles for shoppers. The Holderness restaurant Walter’s Basin ordered thousands of masks for guests to use. Clarke’s Hardware in New London not only outfitted its store with social-distancing signage but also worked toward limiting customer interaction time to about seven minutes. “This doesn’t mean we stop helping our customers — no one would ever be left unserved — but instead it reminds us to keep things moving and take a step back for everyone’s safety,” says owner Read Clarke.
Indeed, one thing the businesses all agreed on was the importance of preserving the customer experience and making people feel welcome. Mary Kendzierski, co-owner of The Inn at Ellis River in Jackson, says that even as they implemented Covid protocols, they worked to provide guests with a sense of normalcy. “We don’t want our inn to look like a hospital setting when you walk in, with everyone wearing a hazmat suit,” she says. “People can still feel casual.”
New Hampshire businesses also went the extra mile to support each other and their communities. Early on in the pandemic, Intervale’s Ragged Mountain Equipment pivoted to making desperately needed personal protective equipment, and to date the company has made more than 25,000 masks for hospitals, school systems, first responders, and New Hampshire Fish & Game, among others. Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery in Hanover partnered with a neighboring Boloco to raise more than $100,000 in meals for frontline workers and area food banks.
In Keene, Luca Paris of Luca’s Mediterranean Café helped found the Monadnock Restaurant Project to give local eateries a bit of financial support via a gift certificate purchasing program. “They always say charity starts at home,” Paris says. “Well, it’s not charity: It’s taking care of each other. And if all our communities do that, there is no reason for us not to prosper, and to get through this or anything that comes up in the future.”
Even as businesses have stepped up to support their customers and their communities, they have found that support coming back to them in countless ways. When the pandemic hit, Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord immediately started receiving online orders not just from customers in the area but from around the country. Michelle DuPont, innkeeper at Laconia’s Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, says that “many locals asked if they could buy gift cards or mention they would be the first to book when things opened up — I even had a former guest from California email me to make sure we were doing OK!” And at the Manchester restaurant Cotton, patrons immediately began buying gift certificates and taking to social media to offer words of encouragement. “They would add little notes telling us, ‘Hang in there, we’ll see you on the flip side,’” says chef-owner Jeffrey Paige. “It felt great.”
“We have definitely seen an increase in people that are buying local and telling us they want us to survive,” says Ragged Mountain co-owner Rob Nadler. “Where in the past, people might give lip service to ‘buy local,’ now they are buying local with purpose.”
DuPont agrees. “The silver lining during this pandemic has been to look around and see how everyone in the community is doing what is needed to get through this — we’re all rooting for each other. The support is here.”