New Hampshire businesses await boost from in-person schooling

Restaurants, retailers that cater to students await return of their customers

A customer places an order at Big Dave’s Bagel & Deli in North Conway eatery. (Courtesy photo)

Dave Hausman, owner of Big Dave’s Bagels & Deli in North Conway, has an affinity for high school students. Not only is the majority of his hired staff in that age group, but he also relies on them to keep the business going after the summer tourist rush.

Procuring shoppers in one of New Hampshire’s premier destinations during the summer season is like shooting fish in a barrel. Keeping that momentum going is the real struggle.

Now that students, teachers and school administrators have headed back to school in person, Hausman believes it’s imperative to reacquire customers who were visiting the establishment before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down schools.

“Overall it’s been a successful evolution for our business,” said Hausman, who got rid of phone orders at the start of the pandemic. He now only accepts orders online, via app or in-person. “I am hoping high school students will keep us busy with online orders.”

For what he has done for the area high schoolers – Hausman estimates he has hired more than 1,500 in his 32 years – and being a stone’s throw from the Kennett High School entrance, the teenagers often reciprocate as they make up a big percentage of his business.

“(High schoolers) like working for us and we’ve always liked that group,” he added. “We always treated them cordially and they’ve been respectful to us. That is why we jive with them.”

Zoe Groves is a freshman this year at Kennett and will be heading back to school for the first time since full-time remote learning shuttered schools in March 2020. She plans on visiting Big Dave’s at least a few times a month, whether it is before school for breakfast or after, for her regular order of a French toast bagel with maple cream cheese. Groves

“In middle school (my friends and I) used to go to Dave’s every Friday after cross country practice,” said Groves, who won’t be running this season.

“It is nice that more people are going back to shopping at local stores,” said Groves, who works at White Birch Books on Rte. 302 in North Conway.

Also located near a high school is Potter’s House Bakery and Cafe in Rochester, which relies heavily on business from the students. But unlike Big Dave’s, owners Tim and Sue Willson have seen an increase in business since the pandemic hit. They estimate the increase is in the 40% range.

With fewer in-store visits – the establishment is a five-minute walk from Spaulding High School – Potter’s saw an uptick in sales to essential workers like healthcare personnel, as well as more deliveries to those who weren’t getting out a lot at the start of the pandemic, like residents of nursing homes.

“We have done a lot of curbside (pickup) and delivery,” said Tim Willson. “Because food was considered (an) essential (business), we never closed.

“Our business changed and we had to figure out how to do it and make it work. I think we had about a two-week learning curve where we figured it out, adjusted, and went with it.”

And now with school recently started the Willsons are discussing how they will handle the influx of students coming through the doors, coupled with their newfound clientele.

“As recently as (early August) we have been talking about our anticipated increase in business when students return,” Willson said. ”We are watching our business trends and patterns. One thing we have talked about is a delivery system to deliver to teachers.”

‘A lot of hard work’

Blended Juicery in Plymouth is a little more than a mile from Plymouth Regional High School and sits just across the street from the Plymouth State University campus, so it sees more college students. For the first 15 or so months of the pandemic, owner Jennifer Snyder saw a dip in business when PSU, the nearby Holderness School and the Plymouth public schools were all operating remotely.

She said business started to pick up by the middle of this summer as sports camps at the college got back into the swing, nearby wedding venues booked more events, and business events were again scheduled. She anticipates the ball will keep rolling once in-person schooling hits its stride.

“I’m expecting increased business (in September),” said Snyder, who noted the day before being interviewed at the end of July was her best day in some time. “I think everyone in the industry is beating themselves up. It’s a lot of hard work and (sometimes) little reward.”

Snyder has increased her distribution of takeout menus, had more of a presence in outdoor community events and is working with other local businesses to market her establishment. She hopes her effort will yield more traffic at her smoothie and breakfast spot.

“A few other businesses are struggling, too, so we try to collaborate with them,” Snyder explained. “I think it will translate into a place for businesspeople who are looking for a sense of community. We are getting our face out there, which will hopefully bring people out of their homes”

It’s not just eating establishments that have been affected by students being stuck at home for the past 1½ years. Shopping spots for school clothes, shoes and supplies also saw a dip in sales.

The start of the pandemic was a tough time for Ted’s Shoe & Sport in Keene. The 21-year-old business is not only a place for the local students to get athletic shoes, hiking and winter boots and comfort shoes, but they also fill medical referrals. Ted’s was not deemed essential by the state, and took a hit when it shut down for a couple of months.

However, this summer, with the expectation of in-person schooling returning, the store has seen numbers come back to normal, and owner Ted McGreer feels that momentum will continue through the fall.

“From a forecasting perspective we’re pretty optimistic this year’s back-to-school shopping will be good for us,” he said. “This summer has been off the charts. I can’t compare this year to any other year. There has been a lot of spending. People are telling me they are getting their first new pair of sneakers in two years.

“I am optimistic about the surge, but I am somewhat concerned about our industry supply chain. Like other industries, we are having trouble acquiring inventory. The shortages make running the store challenging.”

McGreer said the shutdown was actually a blessing in disguise, since he adjusted store hours and now is open 20% fewer hours than he was prior to the pandemic.

“We close at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. and we are now closed on Sundays to give the staff a break, ”McGreer explained. “It probably was a good lesson learned that we don’t need to be open that long to service the needs of the community.”

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