All but retailers report disappointing Thanksgiving holiday in Mt Washington Valley, NH
News from Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce – December 1, 2020
Contact: Marti Mayne, 207-846-6331 or PR@MtWashingtonValley.org
A PERFECT STORM OF FACTORS LEAD TO A TOUGH THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY WEEKEND FOR TOURISM BUSINESSES IN MT WASHINGTON VALLEY, NH
Retailers had the best news to share
North Conway, NH – Pick your circumstance – travel restrictions from New Hampshire’s feeder markets, little snow for most ski resorts to open, fear of travel or cancellations of holiday rides and events – all of these factors created a perfect storm leading to a difficult Thanksgiving holiday for tourism businesses in Mt Washington Valley. According to an informal survey distributed by the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and independent research, the majority of respondents reported business well below previous years for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The only bright light shone on the retail community reporting good traffic for the holiday weekend.
“With all the cards stacked against this holiday weekend, we were not anticipating a record-breaking Thanksgiving holiday,” noted Janice Crawford, Executive Director of the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. “While COVID-19 remains at high levels, and state and federal agencies discourage gatherings, we know we will feel the impact on our tourism economy in the Valley. We’re noting a trend toward day trips and one night-stays, and we’re grateful to see visitors and residents alike wearing masks and observing social distancing and safety protocols required by the Valley’s businesses,” Crawford finished.
Nearly all of the lodging properties responding to the chamber’s survey reported bookings were down by double digits over last year. There was, however, one exception. Nick Panno at Bernerhof Inn in Glen, NH reported a sold-out weekend, which was an increase in room sales over last year. Yet from larger hotels to small inns, most survey respondents described the days prior to Thanksgiving filled with cancellations mostly due to limitations from their states on travel to New Hampshire.
“We were down in lodging by 35% over last year after two large groups cancelled at the last minute,” explained Jen Kovach, co-owner of Snowvillage Inn. “The two large groups that cancelled their lodging reservations had families coming from different parts of the country and felt it was a good idea to stay home,” she added, noting that the 17 rooms spread between three buildings allowed those that were at the inn for the holiday weekend to spread out. Kovach also added that the inn’s restaurant sales were up 20% over last year because in addition to offering Thanksgiving dinner at the inn they added Curbside TO Go the day before Thanksgiving.
Christopher Bellis, co-owner of the Cranmore Inn in North Conway, NH, explained that the cancellation of the Journey to the North Pole, lack of snow – noting that last year we had 10” of natural snowfall by Thanksgiving – and certainly travel restrictions plus advice from health experts to stay home were all factors leading to disappointing Thanksgiving weekend for the inn. “I’m grateful for the strong summer and fall season we had, which will help carry us through,” Bellis added.
Phil Ouellette, General Manager, Eastern Inn & Suites, told the chamber, “Unfortunately with Covid-19 and no snow on the slopes (this time last year we had 10+” on the ground and local ski resorts had bases over 2 feet); this year’s room reservations were down 75%. Clearly Covid-19 and weather were both working against us.” He added an observation, saying, “People are being smart regarding Covid-19 guidelines; in the last five months (since we re-opened June 15th) we have seen an increase in “daycations” – people coming up to enjoy what the Mt. Washington Valley has to offer; staying over 1-night; and enjoying a second day in The Valley. In addition, over the summer, and into October, we experienced an increase in Southern New Hampshire guests traveling less than 2 hours.”
The Valley’s retailers bucked the trend reported by lodging properties, with a more optimistic report following the Thanksgiving weekend. Tim Psaledakis, owner of Jewelry by Tim & Friends in North Conway Village explained that their 50% sale held annually on the Saturday following Thanksgiving is the only sale the store offers all year. “Some years we have folks waiting outside at 7AM for doors to open at 10AM,” Tim explained. “However, in consideration of current circumstances, we held our sale on-line only. Our on-line sales matched and may exceed sales from last year when all items are picked up,” he added, saying how grateful he is for loyal customers.
Susan Logan, Coordinator for the White Mountain Independents – a group of independently owned stores throughout Mt Washington Valley –shared that Thanksgiving weekend was a strong one for the Valley’s local stores. “While foot traffic was flat or down at some of the association’s member retailers, all surveyed responded that, overall, business was good,” Logan told the chamber.
“I think it would have been better if travel restrictions hadn’t just been put in place because of the surge in Massachusetts Covid cases,” said Joann Daly of Soyfire Candle, Bath & Body, an opinion that was echoed by several other retailers according to Logan. “Still, business was on par with last year. There were fewer customers, but the sales totals per person were higher,” she added.
Laura Cummings of White Birch Books reflected, “This was a very interesting post-Thanksgiving weekend. It felt like we saw a lot of new people in the store, and less of our holiday regulars.” She continued, “The interesting note was Monday. I know it's known as Cyber Monday, but that's when we saw most of our local customers – at least until it started pouring in earnest!”
Valley Artisans & Vintage Market’s owner Janice Brotherton reported that on Friday (“Plaid Friday” for the Independents), sales were up three times over last year and up all weekend. “We were busy, busy, busy all three days.”
Some retailers speculated that customers felt safer shopping at small, locally owned stores. According to Deborah Jansien of Fields of Ambrosia, “Everyone wore their masks and were grateful for the awareness of close contact – we have plexiglass partitions at the register, plus we wear our masks and disposable gloves when handling money and product choices.”
According to Rob Nadler of Ragged Mountain Equipment, “People are buying a lot more cross country, back country, alpine touring skis and snowshoes this year. There’s a shortage of those products due to worldwide supply issues and people’s desires to do more outside winter sports.” He also noted that sales of hats, gloves and clothing have also been strong, adding “We’ve had a hard time keeping up with demand for our fleece pet coats.”
Other White Mountain Independents members commented on how the national “Shop-Local-Indie” marketing campaign is attracting attention this year. “People seem to be really supporting small businesses this year,” reports Kathy Ahearn of Four Your Paws Only. “They want to help us all survive and are making a conscious effort to shop local.”
All of the White Mountain Independent members agreed that online sales were way up over last year, anywhere from 20% to 50% or more, more than making up for any lost in-person sales and contributing to a successful weekend.
Scott Ferrari of Bavarian Chocolate Haus summed things up best when he exclaimed, “Our internet business is on FIRE!”
“The parking lots were full on Black Friday,” noted Laura Lemieux, Director of Marketing at Settlers Green, the region’s largest outlet mall. “There are just so many options for shoppers this year with buy online and pick up at stores, gift cards, in-person shopping and more, so it’s hard to tell, but our Thanksgiving holiday weekend definitely met our expectations,” she added. “We’ve sold a lot of gift certificates, so people are certainly gifting shopping experiences this year too,” Lemieux finished.
Bretton Woods Ski Resort was the first New Hampshire ski resort to open on Thanksgiving Day. “We were glad to be open and putting all the planning we’ve worked on all summer to work,” Craig Clemmer, Director of Sales and Marketing at Omni Mt Washington Resort told the chamber. “Skiers were happy to be here and utilizing the new Rosebrook Lodge and base lodge,” he noted, adding “The Thanksgiving weekend was a good opportunity to put our toes in the water and feet in the snow with a shakedown opening.” Clemmer further shared that the feedback from skiers and riders was good, and the opening weekend met their expectations as the perfect chance to test all the terrain and new protocols. Bretton Woods closed due to weather on Monday, but is planning to re-open after firing up snowmaking guns when temperatures allow later in the week.
The Conway Scenic Railroad ran trains all weekend, adding to reasons to visit Mt Washington Valley. Yet at the same time, with less people traveling and concerns for Covid spread, businesses like Northern Extremes Snowmobiling are observing that what was once looking like a strong early winter season is now weakening.
“In October and pre-Thanksgiving our winter reservations were up 50%,” said Peter Gagne, owner of Northern Extremes Snowmobiling in Bartlett, NH. “However since Massachusetts released current COVID-19 guidelines, reservations have slowed, and we have received a number of cancellations. Thanksgiving weekend phone calls and online reservations were down 30% from last year. We are currently even with last year advance bookings,” he added.
All visitors to Mt Washington Valley are asked to observe mask and social distancing requirements. For complete trip planning information, visit www.MtWashingtonValley.org. To learn more about a New Hampshire getaway, go to www.VisitNH.gov.
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For photos of Mt Washington Valley, please visit the online photo gallery here.