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 with deep local roots and a warm welcome for visitors.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Clarke’s Hardware
Learn more about how New Hampshire’s Main Street businesses are caring for their customers in our “Support Local: Go the Extra Mile” series, which includes regular e-newsletter articles as well as regional videos. Sponsored by the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism.
Dartmouth College and Lake Sunapee not only inspired the name of the Dartmouth–Lake Sunapee Region, perched on the western edge of central New Hampshire, but they also help shape its character. This is a region that caters to a lively mix of students, commuters, summer people, and permanent residents — not to mention the tourists who come to hike the region’s many beautiful trails, go apple picking in the fall, or zip down the slopes at Mount Sunapee Resort. Small businesses in the area have built their success on serving the needs of visitors while being year-round resources for the people who call the Dartmouth–Lake Sunapee Region home, a commitment that is especially vital for the many locally owned retailers.
In business for 70 years — 50 of which have been at the current location on Newport Road in New London — Clarke’s Hardware is a one-stop shop for customers of all kinds. Second-generation owner Read Clarke describes his 11,000-square-foot store as a general retail hardware store, but take a step inside and it’s clear it offers much more. There’s everything a homeowner could need, from mowers and trimmers to plumbing supplies and paint, alongside things like fishing equipment and camping supplies for recreationists.
In an age when essentially everything can be purchased online, Clarke and his team of more than a dozen staffers have worked hard to not only stock what customers need but to share their expertise as well. “It’s important to let the customer know we’ve got it, and we’ve got it now, not two days from now,” he says. “We also provide the very-important ‘how’ and ‘why’ to a customer — you need a paint brush, but is the one you picked out the right one for your project?”
Clarke credits a thriving and caring community for playing a big role in why his family’s store has been in business for seven decades and counting. “This is such a great small community, and a generous one too, in terms of supporting one another,” he says. “The breadth of locally owned-and-operated stores is impressive.”
When the pandemic arrived, this same network of local small-business owners helped Clarke realize he wasn’t alone during difficult times. “Our store is open-access to the public — we want you to come in, but how were we going to continue to do that safely while also taking care of our staff?” Clarke says. “The other business owners in town were in the same situation, and it was comforting in a way to know we were all trying to figure it out.”
For Clarke, navigating the pandemic meant rethinking the flow of his store while also instituting new safety measures, including several hand-sanitizing stations and masks for all staff. All surfaces are disinfected at the end of the day, in addition to the continuous sanitizing of the checkouts and other high-touch areas, and weekly sanitizing of the entire store with a fog cleaning agent. Clarke invested in new signage, both hanging and installed on the floor, to manage the new traffic flow and keep patrons safely distanced while shopping. And for those who prefer curbside pickup or delivery, there are new options there too.
Perhaps the biggest change for Clarke, though, was rethinking customer interaction. “No one wants to enter a store where you see pairs or groups of people standing together. Therefore, we found it was important for the customer’s safety and ours to reduce the amount of interaction time to about seven minutes,” he says. “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.”
While the way of doing business has changed for Clarke and his fellow small business owners, how they support one another remains the same. “We’re such a close community, how we encourage each other happens mostly verbally and word-of-mouth,” says Clarke. “We all pull up our sleeves and get the job done, because when a community loses a business, it’s a tear in the fabric. And we’re a tight-knit, strong community.”
Thinking of planning a visit to the Dartmouth–Lake Sunapee Region? Here is a sampling of locally owned businesses that are open and ready to welcome you! Find links to travel resources at visitnh.gov/seasonal-trips/getting-here.Hubert’s Family Outfitters, New London, Claremont, Lebanon, and Peterborough
Unleashed, New London
Main Street Kitchens, Hanover
Omer and Bob’s Sportshop, Lebanon
Claremont Spice & Dry Goods, Claremont