For city’s small businesses, anything to survive crisis

  • A children’s play structure is roped off at the Steeplegate Mall on Thursday to prevent infection. LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • A sign outside of Thorne's on Main Street in downtown Concord advertising curbside pickup at the store. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/22/2020 5:29:52 PM

Usually, the faded orange awning of the adult shop on Main Street blends discretely into the background of colorful storefronts that make up Concord’s downtown.

In the darkly-lit window of “Thorne,” established on Main Street in 1982, a lone mannequin dressed in lingerie is displayed in front of a black wall.

But on Thursday, the store was more visible.

“Yes, we are here and open!” a whiteboard sign outside decorated with blue, green, purple and red markers reads. “We are offering curbside pick-up.”

Christie Williams, owner of Thorne, said businesses are having to get creative to find ways to keep customers engaged.

Curbside pick-up is something many restaurants are implementing now that they have been forced to close seating in-house due to COVID-19. In Concord, local restaurants like O’s Steak & Seafood and Vibes Gourmet Burgers are delivering food in to-go bags directly to a customer’s car.

Williams is using that same approach for her shop.

“It is extremely important for me to salvage what I can of business during this crisis,” Williams said.

Navigating the effects of COVID-19, for many small business owners, has already meant tapping into personal savings.

National strategists estimate that some won’t survive after more than a few weeks with declining sales.

Major national chains have temporarily closed. Marshall’s and Tjmaxx, which are owned by the same company , have moved fully online. In Concord’s Steepleegate Mall, fewer than five shops were open last last week. A children’s play area was roped off with caution tape.

However, small business owners say they can’t afford to close.

Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) approved New Hampshire’s application for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which will help small businesses overcome loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The necessity of quarantining employees and remotely working has placed a strain on businesses of all sizes,” Sununu wrote.

Williams said she definitely will be taking advantage of an Economic Injury Disaster Loan if she can.

“We will take all the help we can get,” she said.

She said along with offering curbside pick-up, her store has still been open for customers. Her employees have been on a strict disinfection regimen throughout the store. She’s implemented a delivery system within the last few days, too.

Williams just bought the business in September 2019 after working there for 20 years.

“It is essential to me that we find a way to get through this,” she said.

Michael Hermann, owner of Gibson’s, said he’s also been feeling pressure on his business.

Hermann said he has had to cut his employees’ hours and True Brew, the coffee shop in his bookstore, has closed down.

He said he was happy to see that the small business administration was making loans available to businesses. However, he said he’d like to see more support, in the way of grants, become available.

“I’m not sure that’s the model to address this kind of crisis,” he said about loans. “You can’t bail out Wall Street without bailing out Main Street – it’s just not the right thing to do. I think we should be seeing grants rather than loans – or a mix of loans and grants. I’m waiting to see that addressed. It’s very complicated.”

That feeling of anxiety has been present among all downtown business owners this week.

“If you’re not panicked, you’re nervous,” said Sue McCoo, owner of The Viking House, Capital Craftsmen and Hilltop Consignment.

McCoo said all three of her stores are open. On Wednesday, when weather was sunny, she had her doors propped open.

Hotel Concord owner Michael Simchik said the crisis had him thinking about how hotels, restaurants, shops and entertainment venues have a symbiotic relationship with each other.

“It’s an example of how much entertainment and cultural events have to do with the success of other businesses in town,” he said.

Red River Theatres closed and will not re-open until at least early April. The Capitol Center for the Arts has had to reschedule shows.

The Capitol Center for the Arts posted on Facebook asking patrons to continue donating to their mission, or buying gift cards.

“Historically, we’ve been able to weather the ups and downs of the unpredictable performing arts industry with minimal disruption to our bottom line… The Capitol Center is facing a significant loss of revenue in this season due to canceled and rescheduled shows – a loss that will greatly exceed what we can support.”

Simchik said he’s seen the impact of that reflected in the low number of guests coming to stay at his hotel, which is next door to Red River and across from the Capitol Center and the Bank of New Hampshire Stage.

“It’s very significant – it’s a pitifully low number. We’ve had a lot of cancellations but we feel it’s important to support the community and stay open,” he added of his hotel, which has 38 rooms.

Simchik said the hotel has been taking precautions, while staying open, to prevent the spread of the virus. They discontinued breakfast, and are instead creating breakfast bags, or giving guests gift cards to local restaurants.

All owners of businesses that have decided to stay open say they are taking this crisis day-by-day, and adapting to as they can to meet the recommendations of state and federal officials.

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