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Businesses adjust as the coronavirus pandemic evolves

  • Dean MacLeod operates a forklift as work continues at Belletetes in Peterborough on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Todd Rice of Dublin hops onto a forklift as work continues at Belletetes in Peterborough on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Work continues at Belletetes in Peterborough on Friday, March 20, 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Matt Worcester shovels a sidewalk in Jaffrey during a snowstorm Thursday, March 19. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Matt Worcester shovels a sidewalk in Jaffrey during a snowstorm Thursday. Worcester works for Red’s of Jaffrey and was taking care of a property Red’s manages. “Gives me a break from fixing burners,” Worcester said. “A lot of people don’t want us in their houses right now because of the corona. I don’t blame them.” Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/22/2020 8:47:19 PM

Amid the ever-changing landscape involved with the coronavirus, business owners throughout the region are in a state of uncertainty.

With new restrictions being put in place daily and people heeding the advice to remain isolated as much as possible, it has forced owners to make difficult decisions.

For manufacturers like MilliporeSigma in Jaffrey and Microspec in Peterborough, whose products are closely tied to the medical community, keeping their employees and facilities safe are a must to keep business moving forward.

For Belletetes, which has stores in Jaffrey and Peterborough, with its business model based on person-to-person interactions the uptick in customers looking for crucial supplies has meant enacting a number of precautions and policies to provide the safest environment possible for both customers and employees.

Others, though, aren’t as lucky and have been forced to shut down to limit gatherings and groupings, which has meant layoffs and lost revenue.

For now, businesses that can remain open have. But as the days go by and directives, policies continue to evolve – and new orders pronounced by Gov. Chris Sununu on an almost daily basis – more changes are surely to come for the businesses that call the Monadnock Region home.

MilliporeSigma

The Jaffrey company is helping to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with products and solutions that allow scientists to detect and characterize viruses and to develop vaccines and therapies, Karen Tiano, company spokesperson for MilliporeSigma, wrote in an email.

“As a global life science tools and equipment supplier, we are committed to providing researchers with the necessary raw materials, products and services that can aid the global scientific effort to fight this novel virus. We provide products and services for vaccine production and provide raw materials and components such as chemicals, enzymes and antibodies, as well a number of other laboratory products. A list of  approximately 125 relevant products, can be found on our dedicated Web page, www.sigmaaldrich.com/covid19 on SigmaAldrich.com. This site includes information on products available to scientists working on COVID-19 research for potential vaccines,” Tiano wrote.

Because of the company’s importance in the area of research and development, Tiano said MilliporeSigma has been increasing stock of products sourced and activating its validated secondary suppliers in accordance with its quality procedures where necessary.

Like all businesses, Tiano said MilliporeSigma is monitoring the situation closely, while establishing protocols and guidelines to minimize the impact, whenever possible, to its employees, sites and supply. She said that employees that can work from home are doing so, and for those employees who need to be at the Jaffrey facility, workplace distancing precautions and staggered shifts have been implemented. Tiano said the have been no layoffs or furloughs.

“By reducing the headcount in our facilities to the absolute minimum while also meeting the critical needs of our customers, we are successfully balancing safety and business continuity,” Tiano wrote.

With more than one location, Tiano said that travel between sites has been stopped.

“The safety and well-being of our employees is of utmost importance,” she said.

Tiano said they are using video technology to connect virtually, and virtual meeting technology to continue collaborating with the global scientific community.

“Our employees truly do understand how important their work is regarding the current events,” Tiano said.

Tiano said MilliporeSigma has “implemented a regular cadence of communication and have updated trainings and protocols to further educate our employees on topics such as hygiene and self-reporting any symptoms.”

But there is no plan to curtail or stop operations.

“We, at MilliporeSigma, need to carry on. Our customers, academic labs, biotechs and pharmaceutical companies around the world are counting on our products and services. We need to continue operations at all of our sites and production facilities. This is of utmost importance,” Tiano said.

Belletetes

The local building supply store, with locations in both Jaffrey and Peterborough, has actually seen an uptick in business this March compared to a year ago.

But Belletetes President Mike Shea can’t predict if that kind of increase will last.

“Our foot traffic is still pretty high. People are coming in purposely looking for things,” Shea said. “But we’re in some strange times. There’s no playbook for this. There’s a lot of initial fear and panic, and that’s due to the unknown. People are fearful we might pause our business operations.”

On Saturday, Shea said, “I have made the decision to be closed on Sundays until the COVID-19 Pandemic is under control. This is a temporary measure made necessary by staffing impacts already felt by the COVID-19 virus. I suspect I will need to make additional modifications in the coming days.”

Like most businesses that supply cleaning supplies and toilet paper, the demand for those items have been high.

“That section has been wiped out,” Shea said. “And our suppliers are running out. There’s no way you could forecast that kind of demand.”

Shea said they’ve seen an increase in activity among contractors in the area recently.

“They want to make sure they have their supplies and their building products on site,” he said. “They need materials to provide their services. That’s happening now, but I don’t think that will sustain itself.”

Shea added that the paint department has been extra busy and believes its due to the fact people are at home and starting to do more projects.

Shea said “due to the nature of our business the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has identified our workers as ‘essential’”. 

“That would be a hardship for our employees,” he said of closing. Currently, Belletetes employs about 300 people, including 100 in Jaffrey and close to 30 in Peterborough. “At this time, I don’t see any need for any action, but we can be impacted at any time.”

In a business that relies on person-to-person contact, Shea said, they are doing their best to follow the protocols put in place by the CDC, but recognizes it’s hard to do at all times.

“Some of it is unavoidable. We’re just doing the best we can to make people comfortable and follow the protocols,” Shea said. “Our business model has always been people physically being here. We have very few jobs that can be done from home.”

Microspec

On Friday, Microspec founder Tim Steele received word that Bellerophon Therapeutics, Inc., a clinical-stage biotherapeutics company they have been working with for more than three years, was granted emergency expanded access by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowing its proprietary inhaled nitric oxide delivery system, INOpulse, to immediately be used for the treatment of COVID-19.

Microspec manufactures three extrusions for the delivery system, including one that has an oxygen barrier on the inside of the tubing and another that delivers oxygen.

“Apparently its proven to be an effective treatment for the coronavirus,” Steele said. “It will help people survive.”

Steele said the INOpulse had been in clinical trials for last two years, but recently it was tested to see how it could be used for COVID-19.

Being heavily involved in providing tubing for medical devices and equipment, Steele said it was imperative to continue work in the Peterborough facility.

“We are a critical supplier for most of our customers,” Steele said.

What has changed is that Microspec has gone from three shifts to two, but the third shift was small and with others needing to take time off because of family or choosing to self-isolate, the same number of people are the same on each shift currently.

The hope is it will stay that way given the back log of orders and critical need, so the most important thing is maintaining the safety of the employees.

Microspec has closed the building down to outside visitors and implemented policies limiting the number of people who can be in the break room at the same time to six and having only one chair at each table to ensure six foot distances. All communication is now done digitally and in-person meetings have been curtailed to just two people at the most, if absolutely necessary. They’ve also advised employees what to do at home, like using gloves at the grocery store.

“We’re trying to protect the environment at Microspec as much as we can,” said Elizabeth Steele, vice president of Microspec.

Tim said there are almost 100 employees at Microspec and doesn’t anticipate any layoffs.

“Layoffs would be the last resort,” he said. But if an employee came down with COVID-19, they’d have to shut down. “Pretty much everything is done here.”

Tim said it’s been a busy year and a record breaking month so far.

“Whether we can continue at that pace, I don’t know,” he said.

A bill that would extend sick leave time would, Tim said, would impact the company by more than $300,000 in the short term “and that’s a big hit.”

“Life isn’t the same anymore,” Tim said. “Keeping everybody safe at Microspec is everyone’s job.”

Terrapin

For Dominique Caissie, the glassblowing studio she owns with her mom Anne Marie in Jaffrey, depends on people coming through the door.

And these days, that’s just not going to happen.

“We were pretty well booked up through the end of the month,” Caissie said last week.

As a result of closing the studio and gift shop at Terrapin, Caissie said she had to layoff all four of her employees, but “with the understanding we can bring them back.” She said most have gone for unemployment.

“I think they’re using this time to dig in and get creative with their own work,” she said.

Caissie said it wasn’t an easy decision, but one her employees helped make much easier.

“We gave them the option of keeping them on for what hours we could,” Caissie said. “They love the business as much as us.”

Caissie said they began canceling classes for March 12 and 13, but did private lessons through the weekend of March 14-15. Then made the decision to shut down completely for an amount of time to be determined.

“Any given Saturday, we can have 50-plus people in the studio throughout the day,” Caissie said. “For us, we’re an experience – a collaborative place for learning.”

While Caissie said “we’re going to make it through” it’s hard to not know how long this will go on for. She said they’ll be able to cover their overhead costs, in part because she is a glass blowing instructor at Franklin Pierce University, which has switched to online learning. This is her first semester teaching at FPU.

In her unexpected free time, Caissis said she is working on the studio’s summer class schedule, calendar, pre-bookings and their website. She is also working to launch the ability for online sales.

“We have a whole list of things, as small business owners, we never have time to do,” Caissie said.

For the time being, Caissie is allowing artists who rent the studio by the month to continue working with extra cleaning and disinfecting inbetween.

Peterborough Community Theatre

For Vanessa Amsbury-Bonilla, there really wasn’t any other choice.

With events being canceled or postponed and a real push to keep people from gathering, there was no way she could keep the movie house that dates back more than 100 years open during this time of uncertainty.

“We are really committed to not losing this theater that has stayed open since 1914,” Amsbury-Bonilla said. “But it’s going to be hard for sure.”

The Peterborough Community Theatre doesn’t make a lot of money, enough to cover its overhead costs and Amsbury-Bonilla’s salary. But with no ticket or concession sales, things will not be easy – especially if the shut down is for an extended period of time.

“If the theater is closed two, three months, how are we going to do that?” Amsbury-Bonilla said. “We’re going to need everybody’s help.”

Amsbury-Bonilla is in the beginning stages of creating a campaign asking for donations to make sure the theater makes it to the other side of the pandemic threat – whenever that is.

“We’re going to need some donations to bridge the gap,” she said.

Amsbury-Bonilla said it was a decent crowd at the final showing last Sunday.

“A bunch of people braved the societal landscape,” she said. “And at that point I was hopeful we’d be open soon.”

That doesn’t seem to be the case right now.

Amsbury-Bonilla said one thing that will be a huge help is that her landlord “very graciously” waived her rent for April.

“It’s going to be a big help,” she said. “But I know it’s not something they’re going to be able to do for long.”

Right now she’s basically going to be in a holding pattern for the foreseeable future.

“We’re going to wait it out,” Amsbury-Bonilla said. “I try not to think about (closing). We are dedicated to keeping it going, but there’s also the reality of life.”

Depot Square

Businesses all around Peterborough’s downtown area have been forced to make some adjustments during this time.

Some have chosen to closure, like the Baker’s Station and European Esthetics. Some are opting to go an appointment only model like Fry Fine Art, Dogs On Depot and Knitty Gritty Yarn Shop. 

New England Art Exchange plans to stay open Tuesday to Saturday for personal gallery tours. The Toadstool Bookshop is staying open, but making it easier for those who don’t want to go into the store.

“We are offering free shipping to people through our website and letting people know that we can bring book purchases out to the parking lot for anyone who does not want to come in the store,” Toadstool owner Willard Williams said.


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