Two New Hampshires – Meredith businesses learn to cope with a tourist economy 

  • Stacy Bonan’s background in the restaurant industry serves her well in Meredith, where she weathers both summertime crowds and offseason slowdowns. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Stacy Bonan has worked in the restaurant industry in Meredith in any job you can name. Behind the bar, she’s the crafted signature Bloody Marys finished with a bacon-wrapped date and crab legs on top. Now, Bonan’s the manager at Camp — an Adirondack style, s’mores-dependent, childhood summer nostalgia-inducing Common Man Restaurant in Meredith. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Stacy Bonan has worked in the restaurant industry in Meredith in any job you can name. Behind the bar she’s crafted signature Bloody Marys finished with a bacon-wrapped date and crab legs on top. Now, Bonan’s the manager at Camp — an Adirondack style, s’mores-dependent, childhood summer nostalgia-inducing Common Man Restaurant in Meredith. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Stacy Bonan has worked in the restaurant industry in Meredith in any job you can name. Behind the bar she’s crafted signature Bloody Marys finished with a bacon-wrapped date and crab legs on top. Now, Bonan’s the manager at Camp — an Adirondack style, s’mores-dependent, childhood summer nostalgia-inducing Common Man Restaurant in Meredith. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bob Manley of Hermit Woods Winery in downtown Meredith.

  • Camp bartender Amanda Briggs serves up a drink earlier this fall. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • John Sherkanowski of NH Fiberglass shrinkwraps a boat inside a closed storage area at Meredith Marina this past fall. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Pleasure boats come out of the water at Meredith Marina earlier this fall. GEOFF FORESTER

  • John Sherkanowski of NH Fiberglass shrinkwraps a boat inside a closed storage area at Meredith Marina this past fall. GEOFF FORESTER

  • John Sherkanowski of NH Fiberglass shrinkwraps a boat inside a closed storage area at Meredith Marina. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Nathan Sherkanowski (left) and his father, John of NH Fiberglass shrinkwraps a boat inside a closed storage area at Meredith Marina this past fall. GEOFF FORESTER

  • John Sherkanowski of NH Fiberglass shrinkwraps a boat inside a closed storage area at Meredith Marina this past fall. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Nathan Sherkanowski of NH Fiberglass shrinkwraps a boat inside a closed storage area at Meredith Marina this past fall. GEOFF FORESTER

  • A luxury home on the east side of Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A luxury home on the east side of Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Downtown Meredith as seen across from the Lake Winnipesaukee. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/26/2022 6:00:34 PM

Stacy Bonan has worked in the restaurant industry in Meredith long enough that she’s done just about every job. Behind the bar, she’s crafted signature Bloody Marys finished with bacon-wrapped dates and crab legs on top. Those sell for $25 at Sunday brunch.

As a waitress, she’ll sit down with her regulars who she’s served weekly for years. They ask about her two kids – she’ll show them her son’s latest art project or share updates on her daughter’s college adventures.

Some nights, she’s out of sight in the kitchen as a line cook or washing dishes.

Bonan is the manager at Camp – the comfort-food inspired, s’mores-dependent, childhood nostalgia-inducing Common Man Restaurant housed under the Chase House Inn. It’s right off Daniel Webster Highway as you enter the lakeside summer town.

Bonan’s background in the restaurant industry serves her well in the offseason months. She can quickly wear multiple hats to keep the doors open when she has a slim staff and there is still a stream of locals lined up out her restaurant door.

Flexibility is the reality of operating a year-round business in a seasonal town. Summer months bring inflated town populations and extra staffing from college students. When school starts and seasonal homes shutter, the town is dependent on a scaled downed workforce to keep business afloat.

Town in transition

For Meredith Marina, their season starts and ends with shrink wrap. Large latex sheets engulf summer boats, as owners leave with the foliage in October.

Travis Williams, the general sales manager at the marina, laughs when people ask him if he gets winters off. What they don’t know is that these months are spent placing new sales orders and processing repair requests – as well as winterizing and storing hundreds of boats on site.

“Quite frankly, we have so much work that we almost don’t get through it all,” he said.

This offseason maintenance balances out the summer months of launching and renting boats.

For other businesses, the seasonal swing means fluctuating staffing levels – cutting costs to adjust for revenue declines.

Each year around Memorial Day, Bob Manley can’t help but notice the new stores populating Main Street in downtown Meredith.

Manley, who owns Hermit Woods Winery alongside Ken Hardcastle and Chuck Lawrence, remembers their first winter in town. The now-booming wine business almost shuttered its doors within the first 12 months.

“We hadn’t fully grasped what it meant to be a full-time business in a tourist economy like this that has such huge swings between the two different seasons,” Manley said. “This was a complicated and difficult journey for us.”

A new approach to their finances is what saved them in their second Meredith offseason. They obtained a line of credit from Village Savings Bank, one of the town’s oldest businesses, which was established in 1869. Now, it’s a cyclical system to manage fluctuating business.

In July and August, Hermit Woods’ revenue is four to five times what it is during January and February.

As fall turns to winter and the town population begins to dwindle, they begin to dip into their line of credit, said Manley. By April and May, when business picks back up, they start to pay those bills off.

It’s a year-long ebb and flow of debt, payoff and profit. Then it starts all over again, joked Manley.

This process also involves staggered staffing. For peak seasons, 25 full-time staff members run the day-to-day operations of the winery, from tastings to the storefront and newly expanded eatery. In the winter, this number can dwindle to half.

‘We’re hiring’

Hermit Woods isn’t alone in this seasonal hiring swing, according to Phil Sletten, the research director at New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute.

In July 2021, 1,032 people worked in the food industry in town, according to the state’s quarterly census of employment and wages. This was the peak month in the Meredith labor market area, which includes neighboring towns.

But come January, the number of food industry jobs drops to just 582 in the area’s lowest month.

“There’s a significant amount of variation in job opportunities associated with tourism seasons, relative to all jobs based in the Meredith labor market area,” said Sletten.

Pre-pandemic numbers tell a similar story.

In March of 2019, employment was at its lowest with 683 jobs in the food industry in the Meredith area. This number almost doubled at its peak, with 1,155 jobs in July.

These numbers also show that the town has not recovered to its full staffing capacities in the aftermath of the pandemic.

At Camp, Bonan hires college students to serve as summer “Camp Counselors,” the restaurant’s term for wait staff.

When they leave, a smaller staff for winter months can mean more meaningful customer interactions, she said.

She credits her regulars with helping put her daughter through out-of-state college. She knows who wants her to sit and chat, and she can predict orders for certain tables.

As a manager, though, Bonan has to find creative ways to keep her staff going. She sets sales goals for wait staff or makes a bingo chart of dishes on the menu to sell.

Sometimes the chaos of a slim staff serving over 100 people a night is an adrenaline rush. A few weeks ago, Bonan and two other employees single-handedly fed 130 people.

“It was the most feel-good shift afterwards,” she said. “Like we all sat there and were like, ‘We did it. We just did that. How did we do that?’ ”

Redefining the seasons

Bonan also knows several landmark dates throughout the offseason reinvigorate town tourism – events like pond hockey and the ice fishing derby on Lake Winnipesaukee bring hundreds of visitors in the sleepy, cold months.

These events are creative ways the Greater Meredith Program – a volunteer group of community leaders and town officials – draws visitors in the offseason, said Manley.

Manley joined the board of directors of the Greater Meredith Program shortly after Hermit Woods opened. Since then, he has been active in promoting business in town.

“I just can’t believe how fortunate this community is to have so many people who commit so many hours and so many dollars to improving their community,” he said.

As you drive into Meredith from Route 3, one of the first things visitors see is the town docks and Mill Falls hotels that populate the lakeshore. For businesses, like Hermit Woods, that are a block away on Main Street, they can be out of sight and out of mind to lake-side visitors, said Manley.

This led the Greater Meredith Program to design a “Do The Loop” walk in town – directing pedestrians along the docks, up Lake Street and down Main Street – in a circle with businesses pinpointed. Signs in town outline the loop, with maps for visitors to follow.

“I think that’s done a huge job. I see people all wandering up the hill with the map,” said Manley.

It’s helped attract new business. But the end of the pandemic has also played a role in bringing people back to town.

At Church Landing, a Mill Falls hotel on the lake, rescheduled weddings and in-person events have allowed the village-style resort to keep busy consistently this year.

“Coming out of COVID, we’ve started to see a little more creativity in weddings, right. So we’ve got some folks that maybe want to have a smaller guest list than they might have had otherwise. Or they’re just getting creative with the seasons,” said Joe Ouellette, the director of sales for Mill Falls. “There’s still things that bring people to the property, and that’s something that we’re very thankful for.”

With more tourists, the Greater Meredith Project has also thought of other ways to encourage people to wander through town. Around Halloween they organized a scarecrow competition, encouraging businesses to design a scarecrow outside their storefront and allowing visitors to vote for their favorite online.

This winter, Manley hopes to organize a holiday lights tour.

Ensuring that enough businesses are open year-round to entertain visitors on Main Street is an essential piece of the puzzle, though. Manley now offers advice to new businesses in the area when they set up shop.

“I’ve always felt like just being successful isn’t enough. We really need to be successful as a community,” he said. “It works both ways. The better the community does, the better we’ll do as a business and vice versa.”

Although it may take a bit more creativity and a dedicated volunteer base, knowing what Meredith has to offer and capitalizing on this for a tourist population is a no-brainer for Manley.

The seasonal population and stream of visitors is in fact what makes Meredith, Meredith, he said. It is the DNA of this New Hampshire lake town.

“The Lakes Region is a tourist economy,” he said. “We see enormous growth and population in this area between the months of May through October and those are the months that pay the bills.”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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