Hanover business owners share challenges and hopes following COVID-19 pandemic

While some businesses in town still struggle because of COVID-19-related issues, others seem to have recovered.

by Jacob Strier | 6/12/22 5:30am

by Katelyn Hadley / The Dartmouth

This article is featured in the 2022 Commencement & Reunions special issue. 

Two months after the town of Hanover lifted its mask mandate, Hanover business owners reported ongoing supply chain challenges but shared their hopes for the near future. 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a number of changes to downtown Hanover, including the closure of several restaurants in 2021 and the opening of Dunk’s Sports Grill, Impasto Italian Eatery and Hanover Scoops, a new ice cream shop. New retail locations also opened during the pandemic, including FatFace — a British clothing chain — and Rylee Anne’s Boutique, a women’s clothing shop. In recent months, businesses have also faced inflation.

However, other sectors, such as local real estate, have thrived, according to Linde McNamara, owner and principal broker of LindeMac Real Estate.  

McNamara explained that homes in the area are selling above market price with no contingencies or building inspections. 

During the pandemic, “sellers ended up not wanting to sell, but buyers were still coming into the area for the hospital and other companies,” she said. “When a house did come up, you would have 10 offers and 15 showings.” 

McNamara said that the majority of her clientele during the pandemic included employees working at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, professors coming to Dartmouth and people looking to live in a rural area as they transitioned to remote work due to COVID-19.  

According to McNamara, a market that favors sellers is good for business, but rising interest rates are now beginning to slow the competitive market, as they are affecting some buyers’ purchasing power. 

“If I had a crystal ball, I would say ‘please keep the market the way it is because sellers are happy and buyers are buying,’” she said. “Between interest rates going down and the conflict in Ukraine, I think we are going to have a slow down with the market.” 

In retail, the market outlook is strong, according to FatFace store manager Doran Brandt. The Hanover location of the British clothing chain opened in July 2020 and is one of 22 U.S. storefronts, Brandt said.

Brandt said that the store’s first year in Hanover was “tough” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the past year has been “exceptional,” with a 45% increase in business over its first year of operations. In the next few months, Brandt said that he projects 15 to 20% growth due to the return of normal Dartmouth events, including alumni reunions and Homecoming weekend. 

“We try to keep a positive outlook,” Brandt said. “With us opening in the heart of the pandemic, we were feeling the lowest of the low from the get go.” 

According to Brandt, FatFace plans on more collaboration with fellow Hanover businesses and with the College in the future, noting the possibility of “happy hours” at the store in the next few months. 

Hanover furniture firm Pompanoosuc Mills’ design consultant Nancy Connolley said that more people have returned to the company’s showroom, but numbers [of people coming in] are “nothing” compared to what they used to be before the pandemic. 

“We used to have a lot more people from out of state,” she said. “People taking their kids to camp, to Dartmouth and to other educational institutions. [Hanover] is a stopping point, and that has cut back here in terms of on-site people.”

Fortunately, Connolley said, business has been supplemented through online sales. As a salesperson, Connolley said she tries to reach her customers in “lots of different ways,” such as on social media. 

“We have branched out a lot more [online],” she said. “Even people who live in Hanover will sometimes order online.” 

Brandt reported a different experience at FatFace, highlighting an increase in foot traffic from residents of nearby towns like Enfield, Sunapee and Grantham, as well as visitors from outside of the Upper Valley. 

Both Brandt and Connolley, however, noted that supply chain issues still affect their businesses. 

Brandt said that at FatFace, which relies on merchandise distributors in the United Kingdom, there has been a “slight delay” in product deliveries. Shipments expected each Tuesday, for example, often arrive a week late due to international delays.

At Pompanoosuc Mills, Connolley said that the waiting period for the company’s hand-crafted wooden furniture has increased substantially. Before the pandemic, customers could expect to wait up to three months for an order to arrive. Now, she said she advises customers that furniture orders may take five months to be completed. 

“We have a labor shortage which makes production take a long time, and [some] people have lost their patience,” she said, adding that the company tries to be “upfront” with customers about timelines and the labor and material challenges facing the company. 

Hanover Scoops ice cream shop owner Kim Smith said that the store’s opening, which was planned for early May, was a “couple of weeks behind schedule,” but wrote in a follow-up email to The Dartmouth that the location opened on Saturday, May 28, with “wonderful” feedback from the community thus far. 

Smith owns and operates a number of other businesses in the Upper Valley alongside her husband Scott, including another ice cream shop called Woodstock Scoops in Woodstock, Vt. 

According to Smith, the pandemic affected their businesses in the Upper Valley in a number of ways. In Woodstock, the closing of a local ice cream shop led the Smiths to start their own in July 2021, filling a “void” in the small town left behind after the other shop’s closure. 

Smith said that she is optimistic about staffing despite the region’s labor shortages, adding that during the pandemic she hired a number of workers laid off in the local food service industry. 

“I feel like things are getting better,” she said. “With that said, the price of everything is increasing tremendously,” she added. 

At her other businesses – women’s clothing store The Ivy Edit in Hanover, and 37 Central Clothiers and Red Wagon Toy Company in Woodstock – Smith said that she has not observed a difference in the number of customers since the lifting of local mask mandates in early spring. She said she observes people come in with or without masks. 

In a follow-up email, Smith wrote that she believes people “still want to go out for social activities” like visiting an ice cream shop despite “current economic struggles.” 

“Everyone loves to go out for ice cream, and it is still a relatively inexpensive option,” she said.