Photo shows patrons enjoying the outside dining patio at the Black Cap Grille. Photo by Ben Williams.
North Conway, NH – In true Yankee fashion, Mt. Washington Valley businesses faced a decrease in travelers to the region and weather challenges with creative new protocols to promote safety while allowing outdoor recreation, dining, shopping and family fun over the Christmas and New Year’s vacation week. The reports to an informal survey distributed by the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce were mixed between increases in business to “well down” over last year. Retailers and some restaurants, for example, welcomed more locals than ever before over the holiday week. Turning to online marketing and sales for retailers and lodging, shifts to take-out and outside dining for restaurants, plus recreation by reservation for ski resorts, Mt Washington Valley businesses not only survived major weather setbacks over the Christmas/New Year’s Eve vacation week, but some reported an increase in sales.
Skiing and outdoor recreation was particularly hard hit over the holiday week by the Christmas Day rainstorm, causing some ski resorts and many of the XC Centers in the Valley to close for a day or longer. Yet, with dropping temps shortly thereafter, and astute attention to snowmaking, all of the ski resorts bounced back quickly, and skiers and riders made the best of the chance to be outside. On January 1, 2021, many of the Valley’s ski resorts and XC Centers received 8” or more of snow, allowing them to re-open and building bases further.
“Despite the little bit of snow, folks are making the best of it and having a great time here,” Lisa McCoy, Events Director at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center told the chamber during the holiday week.
Becca Deschenes, Director of Marketing at Cranmore Mountain Resort, explained, “The Christmas rainstorm was obviously not ideal, and we made the decision to close on Christmas Day, much like other NH ski areas to preserve snow surfaces. Our snow surfaces team did an awesome job early the next morning recouping from the storm. We had some nice windows of snowmaking weather post-Christmas and were able to touch up some spots on open terrain, move on to new trails, and expand our available terrain.”
Becca went on to explain, “Though while operating with reduced capacity, we can’t really compare to past seasons, but we are really happy with how things are going so far, especially the vacation period, and are making our goals.” Like other ski resorts in New Hampshire, Cranmore is limiting tickets for both tubing and skiing to allow for social distancing. However, with careful observation of spacing at lift lines and advance reservations indicating capacity, the resort is able to sell out tickets to maximize revenues, which was the case for Cranmore’s tubing park throughout the vacation week. “There is definitely high demand for outdoor activities,” observed Becca.
According to an article in the Conway Daily Sun, attendance at the annual Schouler Park New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration was greater than in previous years. People stood in the park, stayed in parked cars and observed the traditional fireworks celebration from as far away as Cranmore and the White Mountain Hotel to gladly ring in the new year.
Lodging properties varied in their reports. Yet many lodging properties reporting to the chamber saw large losses in business over last year, when the term “pandemic” was far from our daily vocabulary.
Jennifer Kovach, co-owner of the Snowvillage Inn reported that room sales were down 45 percent over last year and restaurant sales at the inn were down by about 30 percent. Jennifer explained that the inn received many lodging cancellations for the holiday weeks due to Covid, yet that created a last-minute boon when more local couples booked rooms because large family gatherings were cancelled, and they just wanted to get away. “ At the Snowvillage Inn and Max’s Restaurant, we noticed more couples staying longer. They were trying to distract themselves from missing large family gatherings. We had more couples for dinner than families,” explained Jenn.
Restaurants in Mt. Washington Valley have been particularly hard hit due to limitations on seating to promote social distancing, restrictions on hours when they can serve and a general decrease in travelers due to the pandemic. At the Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub, mechanical failures, plus limits on providing entertainment in the Pub added further complications. Terry O’Brien, President of the Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub told the chamber, “Christmas vacation week was down 46 percent compared to last year. We did lose two nights during the week – one due to a propane leak and one due to an equipment malfunction. New Year’s Eve was down 56 percent.” Terry observed, “We had a lot of our regular ski people back plus many first timers – mostly from Massachusetts & Rhode Island. Check averages were about the same. Most guests were very generous with gratuities.” The Red Parka is among many Valley businesses offering take-out, and Terry explained that that’s been popular. “ New Year’s Eve Takeout was 16 percent of our sales,” she added.
Offering outside dining has helped the Black Cap Grille, according to owner, Ben Williams. “”We were very pleased with the amount of people who took advantage of our outdoor dining on our heated patio. They all dressed for it and seemed to enjoy themselves,” Ben commented.
Retailers reported into the Chamber’s informal survey with more positive reports. “Most of our members who responded to the chamber’s survey said that their Christmas week business was excellent,” reported Susan Logan, Marketing Manager for the White Mountain Independents. Deb Jansien, owner of Fields of Ambrosia, said that the store was up 20 percent over this time last year, and up 15 percent for the year, crediting the fact she was one of the few sources for hand sanitizer in the area plus an increase in online sales. “As we had been making hand sanitizer prior to the pandemic – all materials were on hand to amp up production,” according to Jansien.
Timothy Psaledakis, Owner of Jewelry by Tim & Friends, shared that “Days of the week were not a factor in my business this season. COVID and the associated low foot traffic actually resulted in increased sales. We are operating by appointment only- folks come to us with a purpose and we have more time to accomplish their requests. This resulted in our being able to accept and complete more high end projects in the 4 and 5 digit range.”
Rob Nadler of Ragged Mountain Equipment was enthusiastic about the vacation week. “Christmas week was great – 40 percent up over last year! New Year’s Eve weekend was the same as last year for sales due to less traffic on Saturday during the storm.” When asked about the winter season, he was equally upbeat. “Both locals and visitors want to enjoy outdoor recreation: skiing and snowshoeing if we have snow, hiking if not.”
Some White Mountain Independent members reported that people were definitely spending more this year,” according to Logan, “and all reported an increase in local visitors.”
Yet other retailers had mixed reports. “We were about 20% down for the week,” reported Laura Cummings of White Birch Books, “but December was a good month, so we’ll take it on the whole.”
Lisa Spadaccini, owner of It’s My Girlfriend’s Consignment Boutique told the chamber that Christmas and New Year’s weeks were down about 20 percent over last year. “Covid and less travelers , especially from Canada and the UK have definitely made a difference in our sales. Most of the people who visited us were from New England, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, & Rhode Island and few from Florida! People were here to get away from the city and yet many were buying, and many came back a few times to purchase from us. The snow helped with sales. It seemed that people were here to ski or take a sleigh rides,” Lisa shared.
In a newsletter to chamber members, Janice Crawford, Executive Director of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, had a message filled with optimism for 2021. “We will add our voice to those who are pleased to greet a new year and leave 2020 behind. I can already feel a more upbeat energy as the phone rings with ideas that have been put on hold due to Covid and events that are planned for a comeback or a “first time ever” in 2021 are confirmed. Governor Sununu expects that New Hampshire will open by Memorial Day of 2021 which is hopeful news to all of us wanting to get back to normal as fast and as safely as possible. Many factors go into this prediction such as vaccinations and continued adherence to mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing. Don’t let up just yet!”
For information about planning winter trips to Mt Washington Valley, including guidelines for Covid safety protocols, please visit www.MtWashingtonValley.org. To learn more about safe visits to New Hampshire, go to www.VisitNH.gov.