Agency aims to help businesses hit by storm

Calls started flooding the New Hampshire Business Resource Center on Monday morning. A grocery store was throwing out pound after pound of spoiled meat and a defense company feared it might not make a deadline for a significant government contract.

By early afternoon, some of the largest businesses in the state remained at a standstill in the wake of last week’s storm, forcing the state agency to abandon everything else on the daily agenda in favor of damage control.

“We have a whole full-time staff working on it,” said Steve Boucher, communications and legislative director for the state Division of Economic Development, which runs the resource center. “We’ve canceled pretty much all of our meetings and are just focusing on this.”

Surprisingly, some of the state’s largest businesses were not equipped to deal with a prolonged power outage, Boucher said. One of the most common requests Monday was for help finding generators, but the units were pretty much sold out across New England, he said.

Restaurants and grocery stores without power were reporting significant food spoilage, and some businesses feared damages to their building from frozen pipes bursting.

But it was still too early to say how many businesses were affected by the storm. The resource center was still collecting assessment reports by the minute Monday afternoon, Boucher said.

However, some businesses across the state – particularly those in the retail, hotel and restaurant sectors – did better-than-expected business over the weekend due, if they had power.

“The malls came back on pretty quickly. So the malls were packed. There were a lot of people, and they were buying,” Nancy Kyle, president of the New Hampshire Retail Merchants Association, said. “Retailers that provide necessities did well . . . the hotel business has been phenomenal.”

Vincent Cosco, manager of Nashua’s Pheasant Lane Mall, said the mall was flooded with shoppers Friday and Saturday. It was one of three Simon malls in New Hampshire that opened early Saturday and Sunday to serve as a Red Cross “warming center.”

“Our food court and Joe’s Restaurant did close to, if not, record numbers in sales,” Cosco said.

Kyle said she has heard from some retailers who were closed all weekend and are worried about the lost sales, particularly during the holiday season. But the timing could have been worse, she said.

“The good thing is it wasn’t next weekend,” Kyle said, referring to the last shopping weekend before Christmas.

The state business center’s Boucher said he couldn’t release the names of business affected by the outage, due to privacy concerns. But he said the Southern tier of the state was particularly hard hit.

The center also spent time Monday contacting various chambers of commerce and industry associations throughout the state to assess the damage and offer their services to business in need of help.

The Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce sent out a mass e-mail to all of its member businesses to see which needed help yet had not had any response by late afternoon, spokeswoman Marga Bessette said.

“But people might not have access to e-mail,” she said.