Hanover businesses continue to adapt to student absences during interim period
Restaurant and store owners in Hanover said that they experience decreased revenues during the six-week academic break and must resort to creative solutions.
In the 10 years since Dartmouth established its current academic schedule — creating the six-week break known as “Winterim” — Hanover businesses still must “adapt” to students’ extended December absence, according to Murphy’s on the Green owner Nigel Leeming.
“There’s been an adaptation, a purposeful adaptation in the business to fill those void spots,” Leeming said.
The break, which lasts from Thanksgiving until early January, was put in place in 2012 to make the fall term more continuous. According to previous reporting by The Dartmouth, the period gives more time for students and faculty to conduct field research and go abroad for classes. However, the absence of approximately 4,300 students, as were on campus in the fall, leaves Hanover restaurants and stores emptier, according to Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery owner Jarett Berke Tu ’17 said.
Berke said he estimated that one third of his business income comes from the Dartmouth community, leaving the restaurant significantly quieter over winter break. The Lou’s monthly guest count reaches approximately 15,000 customers in the summer, but falls to around 10,000 in December, Berke said.
“All of a sudden, you lose a good chunk of your customer base — and it’s just gone,” Hanover Improvement Society general manager Jeff Graham said. “Main Street was pretty scary when [the interim period] first happened.”
Records, Posters and Memorabilia New Hampshire owner Bryan Smith agreed, noting how during that first interim period in 2012, Hanover was “dead.”
Smith said the negative impact of the long winter break on local businesses was compounded by Dartmouth’s usage of Dartmouth-owned catering for holiday parties instead of using food from local restaurants.
“It took a big chunk out of [business for] restaurants in a time when the students are gone. Some [restaurants now] close up for a few days or the two weeks before Christmas actually starts,” Smith said.
Some businesses are able to handle the winter downturn better than others. Leeming said a strong customer base in the Upper Valley was the key to his restaurant’s success.
“We serve well and we keep our customer base strong — that’s Business 101,” Leeming said. “We built a neighborhood restaurant that includes the College, but we’re not a restaurant that goes to the College [for business].”
Graham said that the Nugget Theater, operated by the Hanover Improvement Society, increased the business it received from locals by playing special holiday movies and hosting free movie nights for kids.
“Anything to keep the Nugget fresh in people’s minds,” Graham said.
Berke, who is a member of Hanover’s economic development council, which supports downtown businesses, said that Hanover restaurants can ride the December lull more easily than retail stores. Although retailers normally rely on December holiday sales, Dartmouth students who have left Hanover for the interim period buy their gifts in their hometowns, Berke said.
“The students leave right before the big retail push, and that really hurts,” he said. “It makes it really difficult for retail to actually survive in Hanover.”
According to Still North Books and Bar owner Allie Levy, who opened her store in 2019, newer businesses in Hanover have had to create their business model with the interim schedule in mind.
“[The interim period has] always just been something we had to figure out how to make work with our business plan,” she said. “Other businesses are in a harder position where they were used to one thing and that pretty radical shift had big impacts on them.”
Levy said that the interim period was “a fun challenge” to which her business has adapted. She added that Still North is busier than normal with holiday book shoppers when cafe food and beverage sales drop by about 30% in December.
“[The interim period] is a big blow, and I think it’s symptomatic of a much larger issue of a lack of communication between the town and the College,” Levy said. “But I don’t think it’s inherently harmful, especially to new businesses that are coming in.”
While most businesses have reported having few student workers during academic terms, Still North employs roughly 10 students every term, Levy said. She added that this means she has had to anticipate the long break in ways other businesses do not.
Levy said she plans ahead to find help during the holiday rush. This year, she offered to pay the transportation fees of employees so they could come back to Hanover for a short period and help out.
Smith also said that he feels that there is a lack of communication from the College such as when it will be hosting large groups of visitors in town.
“I would personally like to see, just in general, better communications,” Smith said. “When they’re doing things, let us know, so we can adapt.”
The dearth of information has left businesses unable to prepare for large Dartmouth community events — including admitted student days in April or student organization events like Model United Nations conferences — according to Smith.
“We are an asset to the College,” Smith said. “I wish the College would see that.”
Hanover town manager Alex Torpey wrote in an email statement that he is hoping for better communication between Dartmouth and the town.
“What we’re hoping to do in our [economic development council] meetings is bring stakeholders together so that different entities can make plans and solicit feedback from each other before making decisions,” Torpey wrote. “We’ve had lots of great participation from various folks at the College.”
According to an email statement by Dartmouth government relations director Heather Drinan, the College is “actively engaged with downtown business owners and is committed to being a good partner and neighbor.”
Drinan wrote that while most students may not be in Hanover for all of December, Dartmouth’s quarter system allows for students to be in Hanover at times of the year when other universities are not in session, such as in early January or the summer.
“Recently, I (along with other administrators) have been pleased to be a part of a series of ongoing meetings convened by the Hanover town manager with downtown business owners to strategize on the future of the downtown and how to best support current and prospective businesses and encourage a vibrant and welcoming community for all,” she wrote.
Varun Swaminathan contributed reporting.