Sponsored by the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism
Given its awe-inspiring mountains, sweeping ocean beaches, and pristine lakes and woodlands, New Hampshire could have taken its pick of state nicknames. It chose granite, one of the toughest materials in the world, as a nod to a historically important industry but also as a symbol of the New Hampshire character.
Today, the toughness of the Granite State is being tested like never before, as business owners throughout New Hampshire’s seven regions work to safeguard their livelihoods, their employees, and their communities in the face of a pandemic. And of the 96 percent of New Hampshire employers that are small businesses, the hardest hit are those in dining, lodging, and retail and services — namely, the very places that bring our Main Streets to life.
“Because we don’t have a sales tax, retail sales in our state are so much more important and so much larger per capita than in other states,” says Nancy Kyle, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Retail Association. “But another thing that sets us apart is our predominance of family-owned businesses that have been around for generations. And these independent owners have so much passion, to hear them talking about their stores — they’re just beaming. They really care about them, and they care about their customers.”
Small businesses likewise are a huge part of the hospitality industry, since they employ the majority of the workforce that powers New Hampshire’s third-largest source of revenue.
“Before Covid, the number-one issue was we didn’t have enough workers — I think we all remember how low the unemployment rate was,” says Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association. “Everything was humming along at a fantastic clip. And then obviously we just fell off a cliff when we had to shut down.”
Even when the economy began reopening, the challenges kept piling on. Retail sales were soaring online, but a lot of small shops didn’t have an online presence, Kyle says, “so they had to scramble to catch up.” There was less foot traffic and lower customer capacity, and more time and money spent on safety measures. “Many places have even been closing earlier because they have to deep-clean — maybe a big store can absorb that, but not so much a mom-and-pop retailer.”
On the hospitality side, hotels and inns have had to grapple with a loss of guests, both tourists and especially business travelers — since March, “corporate travel has just been nonexistent,” Somers says. Meanwhile, many casual and fine restaurants had to pivot to take-out and delivery. “A lot of folks in the dining sector had to redesign their business model virtually overnight, which is almost like starting a new business from scratch in the middle of having no sales,” he says.
Based on what Kyle and Somers have been hearing from their members, New Hampshire’s small businesses are working overtime to safeguard their customers. “They’ve taken precautions. They’re put up plastic barriers,” Kyle says. “Call ahead, and they’ll walk your purchase out to the car for you. They’ll do anything to make sure you’re safe.” Somers confirms that from having workers wear PPE to even installing air filters that are “essentially designed and used by NASA,” businesses are going above and beyond to protect guests and employees. “They’ve certainly made serious investments at a time when they really can’t afford it, but they’re doing it.”
Kyle’s and Somers’s groups are doing what they can to help, by getting information and resources to their members (a standout is the New Hampshire Hospitality Employee Relief Fund, which has raised around $330,000 so far). What it all comes down to, though, is local support.
“We certainly can’t thank local municipalities enough for helping with outdoor dining,” says Somers. “And beyond that, we hear anecdotal stories that guests are tipping ridiculous amounts, 30, 40 percent. All the stuff that people are doing — getting takeout, buying gift cards — it’s certainly made a difference in a lot of lives.”
Yet with the slowest months of the year upon us, Kyle and Somers say New Hampshire businesses are facing a critical moment in an already perilous year.
“These places have made a commitment to our communities,” Kyle says. “They are brick-and-mortar, they’re contributing to your Little League team, and they’re there for you. And it’s time for us to be there for them.”
New Hampshire’s Main Street businesses are ready to welcome you! Learn more about how they are caring for their customers in our “Support Local: Go the Extra Mile” series, which will include regular e-newsletter articles as well as regional videos.