In Contoocook, business is good..and bad

  • Shannon Secore, owner of 3 on Main Mercantile in downtown Contoocook, in her store on Aug. 6. Below: Secore is selling her inventory and closing the shop. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Shannon Secore, owner of 3 on Main Mercantile in downtown Contoocook, sits in the window of her store on Thurday, August 6, 2020. Secore is selling her inventory and closing the shop. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Above: A rainbow arcs over a block of businesses in Contoocook on Aug. 6. Left: Ruth Fischer owns QuiltWorks, which has done surprisingly well despite the pandemic.

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/10/2020 4:10:44 PM

Christmas, Shannon Secore knows, won’t be the same this year.

She’s closing her business on Main Street in Contoocook, 3 on Main Mercantile, at the end of the month. She won’t be decorating in a few months, won’t be creating something big and colorful, with North Pole-like cheer, as Secore has done over the past three years.

COVID-19 again. The force that works like a tornado, cutting a narrow, unpredictable path that sometimes crushes a business over here, sometimes leaves one over there intact, 200 feet away.

Meet Ruth Fischer. She owns QuiltWorks, 200 feet from 3 on Main, in the same little plaza, in the same little town square, where a rumor says its holiday lights can be seen from space.

Fischer’s place is open. She’s doing pretty well. In fact, she’s been open since business closures and limitations on crowds became the norm.

When an infection threatens the world, people, it seems, keep quilting. Maybe they quilt more than ever before.

“Yeah, surprising,” Fischer said during a visit to her shop. “During the shutdown for COVID, people are still quilting. We can have very brief drop-offs. People can drop their stuff and then we talk via phone about what they want me to do in terms of stitch patterns.”

From Secore’s view, her eclectic, all-USA inventory – candles, linens, mugs, lanterns, mini animals made of different materials, T-shirts, fake flowers, real vases, special soaps, goat’s milk – never resonated with customers during the pandemic. At least not enough.

She tossed out brand-named rugs made by Dash and Albert, and linens made by April Cornell. I nearly pretended I had heard of them. Her point was cause and effect.

“Weddings are canceled and birthdays are canceled,” Secore told me by phone. “And that means people may not be in that gift-giving, celebratory time. Others are quilting and doing things at home. I don’t know for certain.”

No one does. Medical opinions change like the wind. Data on infections and deaths show upticks, a downward spiral, then more upticks.

But the story about small-business owners, at least some, anyway, remains the same.

Secore, who grew up in Vermont and lives in Hopkinton, bought the store more than three years ago, sustaining a business that had been open for five years. She joined a cluster of stores that, like many local businesses these days, have reached out, given encouragement, shopped at their neighbors’ stores.

That’s what Secore wanted to emphasize. Her appreciation for local support. People looking out for each other, promoting other businesses to their own customers. Camaraderie in this village, on this street, runs deep. Always has.

“If someone asks where I got my outfit, I’ll send them across the street,” Secore said. “We all carry unique things, and we encourage people to explore downtown.”

The square – including Mr. Mike’s, a central meeting place with the name that’s fun to say – felt the sting last spring as the coronavirus began to sprout wings, closing businesses or limiting access and hours.

“We decided it would be best with school closings and uncertainty with COVID-19 that we temporarily close in mid-March,” Secore wrote in an email. “So, for nearly five months, the store remained closed. It was an incredibly difficult decision, but after much consideration, the best option was to prepare to close our doors permanently.”

She’ll miss her staff and clientele and the many artists who frequented and added to her store. And the holiday season.

Secore was quite the elf in recent years, splashing the town with color and tinsel and lights and spirit. Her big storefront windows got a lot of attention, and her jolly hand extended “to the local bank, to the town fountain,” she said.

“The amount of greenery, berries and lights I own, well it’s ridiculous.”

Fischer said she’ll miss Secore. “A great shop,” she called it.

QuiltWorks has not suffered the injustices that so many others have.

Hester Campbell co-owns the business, and only one of the two women worked at any one time, limiting exposure. Orders were by appointment only. Deliveries were picked up outside, on the sidewalk.

It worked.

“I was really lucky that we don’t rely much on retail,” Fischer said. “This is custom quilting, on demand, by commission. That’s what we do.”

She retired from Yankee Book and the world of analyzing academic books and put her other specialized skills to work. Her mother taught her how to sew. She’s been quilting for decades.

She had something that stretched far across her shop called a long arm quilter. It took Fischer months to learn how to operate it.

She knows now. She’s been in business for 18 months. She’s one bookend, the lucky one, with no plans to close, of yet another COVID-19 angle, matched with the bookend, the nearby merchant at the other end of Main, who ran into bad luck.

Secore is hosting a clearance sale through the end of the month at 3 on Main. A sidewalk sale is scheduled for Aug. 22.

Get a steal. Say goodbye. Wish her a merry Christmas.

“I think come holiday time, the loss will hit me again,” Secore said. “I will miss the small town cheer that comes from holiday shopping. I truly will.”

 


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