In Warner, pandemic forces eateries to close, other businesses see boost 

  • The entrance of the Foothills Restaurant and Bakery has a sign saying it is now closed for good. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Schoodacs also closed, although its owner, Darryl Parker, announced on Facebook last month that he’s sold his business and the new boss will be named soon.

  • The empty Foothills Restaurant and Bakery sits empty, photographed through the front window. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Warner Public Market co-owner Sarah Hansen stands in the storefront last week. The market is doing well during the pandemic as people want local, fresh food. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The front door of the Foothills Restaurant and Bakery with a sign saying it is closed for good. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Nick and Kathryn Croce, with their 8-m0nth old son, Christian on Main Street in Warner last week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Nick and Kathryn Croce stroll past Foothills with their 8-month-old son, Christian, in front of the now-empty restaurant and bakery last week. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Katharine Nevins, who owns MainStreet BookEnds across Main Street from the Foothills said the eatery was an anchor for Main Street.

  • Nick and Kathryn Croce, stroll past Foothills with their 8-m0nth old son, Christian in front of the now-empty restaurant and bakery last week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/8/2020 12:12:11 PM

At the Foothills of Warner restaurant, the steps out front lead to a porch with inviting old-style wooden rocking chairs and signs that read “Breakfast All Day” and “A Taste of Home.”

Inside, though, the stools that kids once spun on while waiting for waffles and hot chocolate, the ones that line the long, narrow counter up front, are not spinning these days.

It’s dark in there, like many other small businesses across the country that have closed under the weight of COVID-19.

For many local merchants, curb-side pickup and takeout orders and federal grants have simply failed to keep them up and running. The enemy is too resilient, too crafty, showing that a cohesive defense is desperately needed to stamp it out.

In Warner, Schoodacs and its mouth-watering baked goods also closed, although its owner, Darryl Parker, announced on Facebook last month that he’s sold his business and the new boss will be named soon. The new business name, too.

Deb Moore owned the Foothills restaurant with her husband, Ron, for 16 years.

“We run such a tight margin here that it’s going to be very difficult,” Moore said before closing in mid-July.

The loss of these traditional landmarks alters the town’s old-feel personality of wooden railings and porches and homemade signs, and the image reminiscent of a drawing from the Saturday Evening Post.

And this Main Street USA, certainly less than a mile long, somehow has offered a smorgasbord of entertainment – painting; acoustic music; Children’s programs; dance; museums; an outdoor amphitheater, sunken low, surrounded by steep grasslands; the Warner Fall Foliage Festival; the food, the food and the food.

The Foothills played a big role in all of that.

“It was pure hometown, locals hanging out, an institution for our town, so we are feeling that loss,” said Katharine Nevins, who owns MainStreet BookEnds across Main Street from the Foothills.

The Nevins name is an institution here as well. Katharine’s brother, the late Jim Mitchell, owned the bookstore for 10 years before she did, and he emerged as a town leader whose name and impact are everywhere you look.

His book store door was open to musicians, writers, artists, a red carpet rolled out so they could perform for the town, keep it alive, keep its creative DNA intact.

The Jim Mitchell Community Park, Annual Scholarship and Local Hero Book Award were created to keep his name alive, and in fact Jim gave something to the town that will also live forever: “Something Wonderful is Happening in Warner.”

Those words are on signs and banners on Main Street.

“This is his slogan,” Katharine said, standing outside her bookstore wearing a mask. “He coined this, and this is how we feel about this town.”

The Foothills closed one month ago. Not everyone had heard during my visit. I had the unpleasant task of alerting Nick and Kathryn Croce, who strolled past Foothills with their 8-month-old son, Christian.

This was a handsome, fit, educated young couple, seemingly with everything in place for the future. Nick is in medical school. Kathryn is a licensed nurse who’s been a stay-at-home mom since the birth of Christian.

And while Christian declined comment from under his stroller’s shade cover, he also declined to stop smiling.

Perfect life, you say? Not without Foothills.

“Oh, it was lovely,” Nick said. “We ate there with (Kathryn’s) brother and sister and their spouses, so there were six of us and we all lined up on the porch. It’s really nice. We have a picture of all of us there on the rocking chairs.”

That postcard-like landscape is gone for now. So is something else, and it’s really irking our future doctor.

“We shared one of those massive cinnamon buns that they had,” Nick said.

“Oh my gosh,” Kathryn added. “We thought they were going to be small.”

“Delicious,” Nick said. “One of the best cinnamon buns we’ve had. We got pancakes, eggs benedict, steak and cheese something. It’s delicious and so quaint.”

Delicious and quaint. That’s another good slogan for Warner.

Down the street, the Warner Public Market had a chalkboard out front listing carrots and broccoli and cauliflower and cabbage.

It’s owned by six artists and farmers and limited to walk-up only, through a sliding screen window. One of the owners, Sarah Hansen, stood behind the screen and her mask and said of the Foothills, “It was definitely a staple. A lot of locals went there. It was like there hangout to get coffee.”

Ironically, the market has done fine since life changed in March. In fact, it’s done better than fine.

“Even in March and April, our business was more than I expected.” Hansen said. “We have been thriving, basically. I think that people have really been looking to support local businesses when they can, and with people staying home and restaurants closing, they’re looking for good food to cook at home.

“But I’m super sad to see (the Foothills) go, and if Schoodacs is going to reopen, that would be awesome.”

In the spring, Parker told the Monitor, “Every week that goes by is a thousand bucks. How many thousands of dollars am I supposed to invest in hopes of reopening?”

Fast-forward, and Parker said on Facebook recently that he’s found a buyer and Schoodacs will open soon. A new name will be revealed as well.

The colorful, spotted bull still sits beneath the signs marking East Main Street and Kearsarge Mountain Road, announcing your arrival at Schoodacs, another breakfast place with to-die-for bakery goods.

So while the Foothills remains in darkness, a wounded solider in the war on COVID-19, unable to return to the front, Schoodacs represents the veteran who recovered from injuries suffered in the war and expects to return to the fighting.

“There will be a cafe opening there,” Parker proclaimed online.

Last spring, though, his words were more dour: “We literally could come out of this on the other side and there won’t be a single restaurant in town. We could wipe Warner out, and it won’t be because people don’t want it.”

Nevins is fighting the fight. People are still reading her books, perhaps more so with so much time spent at home these days. She’s feeling pretty good about the future.

Or at least there’s some optimism.

“Town businesses here have joined together and bound together,” she said. “There is certainly some sadness, but there’s the realization that we can turn this around.”


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