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Business owners continue to navigate uncertain times

  • Chris Gordon puts the finishing touches on a downstairs table at the Copper Kettle, a new restaurant and taphouse set to open on Wilton's Main Street. Gordon is practicing shou sugi ban, an ancient Japanese woodburning technique, to weatherproof it and give it a rustic look. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Megan and Chris Gordon work on the finishing touches for the Copper Kettle, a new restaurant and taphouse set to open on Wilton's Main Street. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Megan and Chris Gordon work on the finishing touches for the Copper Kettle, a new restaurant and taphouse set to open on Wilton's Main Street. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Megan and Chris Gordon forged ahead with their plans to open Copper Kettle in Wilton despite the uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Megan and Chris Gordon work on the finishing touches for the Copper Kettle, a new restaurant and taphouse set to open on Wilton's Main Street. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Despite the coronavirus pandemic taking over the world, MaryLou Cassidy moved forward with her plans to open Integrative Health & Wellness Clinic in Dublin. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/20/2020 4:04:46 PM

Since the coronavirus pandemic caused the state to change the way many industries operate, small business owners have been doing whatever they can to survive.

Staying in business has been the No. 1 priority since the middle of March, trying to navigate the uncertain landscape that COVID-19 created. For some it was switching to an online platform to keep sales moving forward, while others adopted creative ways outside their normal operations to stay afloat.

And yet another group forged ahead with opening a new venture after spending months, sometimes even years, creating a business plan to fulfill a longtime dream.

Owning or opening a small business is difficult under normal circumstances, and doing so during a global pandemic is anything but normal.

Michelle Jarest found herself faced with that situation when COVID-19 hit. She not only had to figure out a way to change the way her Massage and Integrative Therapies practice in Depot Square in Peterborough operated, but also go through the process of opening Monadnock Wholistic Wellness & Nutritional Coaching.

Prior to Gov. Chris Sununu’s orders requiring massage practices to close, Jarest made the decision to do so herself. She used the time to figure out a way to still provide her service in a way that made everyone comfortable.

“How do I meet each person where they’re at?” Jarest said. “It was a process of doing my own research and I totally changed how my massage practice worked.”

She eliminated skin to skin contact and removed the use of linens and so far it has set the groundwork for how she plans to operate moving forward.

“I’m really able to do the same work and even more work,” she said. “And its allowed me to step into more advanced training than I’ve had.”

While times were uncertain, Jarest, a holistic Methylation practitioner, decided to move forward with her new practice, which opened in May.

A lot of her clients come through word of mouth and so far she’s seen a good response from the community. It’s not exactly the kind of opening she anticipated, but it’s all about adapting.

She has done a lot of visits through telehealth, and even met once person in a park.

“I’m meeting people where they’re at,” Jarest said. “It’s not optimal, but it’s the world we live in.”

The adjustments

Paul Dell, owner of SportsStop.com, said from January to March his online lacrosse equipment company was enjoying its best start to a year since he opened his operation in 2001.

“We were looking golden,” Dell said.

But by the middle of March “in less than a week, it all fell apart,” Dell said.

Dell, of Hancock, likened the decrease in business to falling off a cliff. With spring sports seasons being canceled around the country, the demand for lacrosse equipment went from an all-time high to almost nonexistent.

Within a couple of weeks, Dell said things stabilized a bit, but sales were still down 60 percent and he knew that was not sustainable for the long haul.

He worried that further restrictions might prevent his ability to ship out purchases and “if we aren’t shipping anything, we were not bringing in any money,” he said.

As he talked to other business owners, a conversation with a friend, Jeremy Elliott of Smugglers’ Notch Distillery in Jeffersonville, Vermont, gave him an idea. Elliott had switched up his operation to make hand sanitizer due to the increased demand for the product, but was struggling to find a way to more widely distribute it.

“I was like, ‘hey, we can do that,’” Dell said.

It took a few weeks to get everything into place, but with his Brookline facility set up for distribution, he created smallbatchsanitizers.com to allow the two small businesses to collaborate – and keep the doors open. Dell said sales were good early on as people couldn’t find the product anywhere, but over the last couple months have leveled off as hand sanitizer returned to store shelves.

“You’ve got to roll with it,” Dell said. “Try to adapt and do different things.”

Prior to the state forced restaurants to a take-out only model on St. Patrick’s Day, Cassandra Sullivan, owner of Cooper’s Hill Public House in Peterborough, said the downtown Irish establishment only did at most four to go orders on a good night.

But with no other choice, Sullivan said they moved forward to offer takeout instead of closing down and “it went okay.”

They were still only operating at less than 20 percent of typical business and being closed on St. Patrick’s Day, their best day of the year, really hurt. They furloughed their staff, and along with her husband Kyle, the two took over kitchen duties. They added the option for takeout delivery in Peterborough and saw a response from customers early on.

Cooper’s has since opened for outdoor dining, but with only space for three tables and three seatings per night, it has been a slow recovery. Sullivan isn’t sure what indoor seating is going to look like just yet.

“We’re going to feel out how indoor dining will go,” Sullivan said.

In addition to delivery for meals, Sullivan partnered with Roy’s Market owner Peter Robinson and a few other local businesses to offer a one-stop delivery opportunity for many needs. Not many people took advantage of getting a meal, groceries and other items, Sullivan said, but the partnership was necessary to try and maximize any potential income.

Opening up

MaryLou Cassidy, a nurse practitioner from Hancock, had always thought about opening up her own clinic. When she found out in January that her job would be ending in March, Cassidy knew this was the perfect time.

So from January to March she developed a model for what her practice would look like, found a location on Route 101 in Dublin and began preparing to realize her longtime goal. Then COVID-19 hit.

Fortunately for Cassidy, being in the healthcare field, although increasingly more challenging during the current times, is something that will be needed.

“People always need healthcare, so I wasn’t worrying about not having patients. Didn’t even cross my mind,” Cassidy said.

So she moved forward with her business model and officially opened up June 1. She has been steadily picking up patients and that’s all she really wanted when starting out. Cassidy planned to conduct certain visits through telehealth, but now most of her patient visits are held that way.

“I’m using it differently than what I thought,” she said. “I thought it’d be more once I became established with a patient.”

One of the things she has seen is a heightened situation surrounding COVID-19.

“People are uncertain and they don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Cassidy said. “This has been six months as a chronic stress situation.”

Bret Sullivan and his wife Lisa planned to open Beepa and Lulu’s Restarant in Peterborough on March 16. But that idea was quickly changed when it became clear restaurants would not be able to operate normally for an undetermined amount of time.

“It crushed us, but mostly for our employees,” Bret said.

They put together the final touches the night before the scheduled opening, but between then and when they finally opened on June 26, Bret, who doubles as the Bennington Police Chief, said they had to basically redo everything. They had to reconfigure the dining room to meet social distancing guidelines, add outdoor seating – something they planned to do but not right away – and rethink how the operation functioned.

“The restaurant business is tough, we have to do a lot of things that others don’t,” Bret said. “We had to make changes, but we understood.”

Bret said they finally decided to open because “we felt it’s now or never.”

So far, just shy of a month being open, Bret is relieved at how well things have gone.

“The support from locals and people we don’t even know has just been amazing,” he said.

Megan Gordon said she and her husband Chris had been planning to open their Copper Kettle, a combination prepared meals and tap house, on Main Street in Wilton for about a year.

The goal was to open in July and the anticipated opening is a couple weeks away, Gordon said. Despite the coronavirus turning both the food and beverage industries upside down, the Gordons have moved forward with the project as planned. The take and bake meals portion of the business, which has been operating as a delivery business will be upstairs at 39 Main St., doesn’t really present any worries for Gordon, even when restrictions were in place. It was the tap house that caused a little bit of uncertainty.

“The only part that had us nervous is opening the tap house downstairs,” she said.

The gathering of people is still a real concern, especially since the couple has young children.

“We obviously don’t want to get sick and bring it home to our family,” Gordon said. And because of that, they will be requiring masks upon opening.

But this isn’t Gordon’s first time launching a business during a crisis after opening a small bakery during the Great Recession in 2008.

“It kind of feels like par for the course,” she said.

The future

Sullivan said there’s still an uneasy feeling being in the restaurant industry, especially with other states returning to restrictions that limit indoor dining.

“I’ve mentally prepared myself to go back to take out,” Sullivan said.

But even if that does happen, she’s prepared to take the same approach as she did in March.

“Once I wrapped my head around that we needed to do this, we just had to move forward,” Sullivan said.

While the new venture allowed Dell’s lacrosse equipment business to recover some, it’s all about looking to the future.

“I think it will be two years until lacrosse feels normal,” Dell said. “But it should continue to recover.”

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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