Main Street businesses consider reopening as some statewide orders lifted

by Andrew Sasser | 5/12/20 2:10am

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by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

In an order issued by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) on May 1, hair salons, drive-in theaters, private golf courses and retail stores were allowed to reopen with restrictions on Monday.

According to Hanover town manager Julia Griffin, retail stores and salons will be restricted to 50 percent of their total legal occupancy limit. Griffin added that the town is currently working on determining occupancy numbers for Hanover businesses and that it would be up to each business to “self-police.”

“We’re not going to go around [to businesses] and say, ‘We count more than 16 people in there — that’s more than 50 percent of your occupancy,’” Griffin said. “We just don’t have the staff capability to do that.”

Griffin said that the town does not know how many businesses will open their doors immediately, but noted that “a handful” have already reached out to the town for guidance on reopening.

Maven Salon reopened on Monday following state guidelines with extended hours and fewer services available. According to an email sent out to past customers, staff and guests will be required to wear cloth masks and stay six feet apart. A maximum of 10 people will be allowed in the salon at a time. The salon will only accept clients on an appointment basis and limit services to haircuts and root touch-ups. 

Despite the chance to reopen, Chris Rosenquest, owner of musical instrument store Hanover Strings, said that his business will maintain a “closed door policy” and will not reopen the inside of its retail store, instead continuing with curbside servicing of instruments. 

“We’ve stayed really busy with repairs and rentals, so we don’t really need to open up immediately,” Rosenquest said. “We just need to see how Main Street itself opens up and take cues from that.”

Rosenquest added that when his business reopens its retail store, he plans to limit business to one patron at a time. He said that he was unsure when he would be able to reopen and would likely look to other stores for cues.

Allie Levy ’11, owner of bookstore and coffee shop Still North Books & Bar, said that her business will also not immediately reopen out of concern for the safety of community and staff members. Levy added that Still North will continue its online services and curbside delivery orders for books, puzzles, coffee and some baked goods.

“Given the nature of book selling and the handling of the items, as well as the nature of our space, we’re not confident that we can allow people to browse in the shop just yet,” Levy said. 

According to Sununu’s order, restaurants will be permitted to open outdoor seating on May 18. That said, not all restaurants will be able to take advantage. Jarett Berke, owner of Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery, said that it would be “pretty tough” for his restaurant to do outdoor service unless more outside space was blocked off for restaurant seating. 

Berke added that restaurants have been told by the state to enforce the use of face masks when customers are not eating, and that everything on a table, including menus and condiments, must be “disposable or sanitizable.” 

Griffin said that outdoor tables will be required to be six feet apart, and no more than six people can sit at any one table. She added that the town is considering shutting down sidewalk and parking space in order to make more space for outdoor seating.

According to Griffin, there is a “lot of uncertainty” for businesses looking to rehire staff. She said that “most businesses” have been in regular contact with their staff, but acknowledged that many employees are “still worried” about exposure to COVID-19. 

Levy said that the Paycheck Protection Program loan that Still North received has allowed her business to avoid firing full-time employees. She added that all staff members will wear masks, and that the bookstore will try to keep a “one person, one work station” policy for all employees.

Although Lou’s has only received 50 percent of normal revenue so far this year, the business has been able to retain and pay all employees who work at least 30 hours per week as a result of its PPP loan, according to Berke.

Griffin said that the town is “hands down” depending on guidance directly from Sununu’s office. She added that because New Hampshire has a very small department of public health, the town must instead “interpret” Sununu’s orders on a “day-by-day basis.”

Amid uncertainty over the return of Dartmouth students to campus, some business owners have expressed concern that their businesses may be severely impacted by the lack of students in town.

Rosenquest said that continued lack of student business and party equipment rentals have forced Hanover Strings to seek more “installation work” for sound systems, but he acknowledged that this type of work “doesn’t really come as quickly as we want.”

Berke said that the lack of student business and catering for College events will “significantly hurt” Lou’s business. He added that he hopes to work with the College to “get back on our feet once things get back to normal.”

“We really miss Dartmouth students and talking to them about what they’re reading,” Levy said. “Luckily we have a good customer base in the Upper Valley, so we’re hopeful that even without students we’ll be able to weather this.”

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