Distanced, but strengthened

  • Katherine Nevins and Sarah Hansen are coordinating their efforts to keep Main Street businesses strong. Courtesy

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 6/27/2020 5:24:27 PM

When the pandemic took hold and Katharine Nevins moved toward curbside pickup for her shop, MainStreet BookEnds of Warner, she reached out to her neighbors, the Warner Public Market. The shops should align their pick-up hours, Nevins reasoned, allowing people to shop downtown during one outing.

That collaboration set the tone for how business would unfold on Main Street in Warner during the shutdown and as the economy reopens. Nevins, along with Bret Ingold and Sarah Hansen, owner-workers at the Warner Public Market, say that their local business community is stronger than ever.

“It’s physically distancing, but almost socially strengthening for our clients,” said Ingold. Main Street is still a gathering place for the locals, albeit with people exchanging pleasantries from 6 feet apart rather than moseying through the aisles of stores.

The Warner Public Market has been open for less than two years, while MainStreet BookEnds has been in business for 22 years. Both establishments have seen an uptick in business and strengthened connections with their customers because the pandemic and shutdown encouraged customers to talk directly with local shop owners.

On Easter, Nevins got to act as Easter Bunny for dozens of children, hopping around the shop to pick out the perfect book or present. With customers unable to browse, they’re relying more on her expertise to choose a perfect gift for themselves or a loved one.

“There’s a lot of trust there,” Nevins said.

The staff at the Warner Public Market have had a similar experience.

“Being forced to talk to each other is so much better in a way,” said Hansen. “We can have these in-depth conversations with our customers that are better than them just wandering around the store. When they ask us questions, they get to the root of why they’re here.”

With those questions comes a unique understanding of the value in local businesses, the owners say. People are realizing that while they might spend slightly more money shopping locally, the products will last longer and will spark joy in their lives, Hansen said. There’s comfort in knowing that their money is spent locally and that they’re supporting a local supply chain that is more secure during national and global turmoil.

“That’s one of the silver linings of the pandemic: people were exposed to what has been right around them all along,” Hansen said.

Both the Warner Public Market and MainStreet BookEnds are still doing curbside pick-up only. They’re just not ready to reopen yet, and they’re looking at how curbside delivery might continue in the long term, particularly through the cold and snowy months. As they adjust to the new normal of doing business amid a pandemic, they’re focused on continuing the connections they’ve made with new customers. Even if people who shopped at regional and national chains before the pandemic reroute a fraction of their spending to local shops, it will help local business flourish.

“Main Street is really thriving,” Nevins said. “These businesses … we’re all responding [to the pandemic], and the community is responding back in terms of support.”

At a time when many businesses are struggling, the Main Street community in Warner is optimistic about the future.

“We’re adaptive and resilient,” Ingold said. “By supporting that local economy we can be even more so. With crisis comes opportunity. There’s a lot of reasons to be hopeful.”

This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.


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