Shaheen hears concerns from tourism officials

Normally, New Hampshire’s tourism and hospitality industries would be gearing up for a busy summer season, but now uncertainty over how they will be able to reel in revenue is being felt from the northernmost parts of the state all the way down to businesses bordering Massachusetts.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused issues in every area of the Granite State’s economy, and the two industries have been hit especially hard.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen hosted a conference call last week with various leaders in the two industries where she took note of the questions and concerns facing officials.

“I know that those of you on the call who represent the hospitality and tourism industries have been particularly hard hit,” Shaheen said. “You, in many cases, were the first folks to get shut down because of the stay-at-home orders, and you’re going to be among the last to open up.”

For those who got the Paycheck Protection Program loans, the senator said she knows that many of those are coming due in the upcoming week and that the concern is what happens next. She said officials are working to try to address that. Shaheen then provided a brief update on the passage of the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act in the Senate.

For Amy LaBelle, the real problem is that even if she is able to reopen on July 1 at 100 percent, she will not see the event business, and the restaurant to some degree as well, not bounce back 100 percent right away. LaBelle is the owner of LaBelle Winery in Amherst and said that during these past three months, event inquiries have dried up completely.

“It was dead silent,” LaBelle said.

The family business has had some events postponed into 2021, which she explained is almost as if there will be one year of revenue spread across two years, citing how that will not support the overhead she has built at the winery.

However, it’s not just events where her concerns lie, as her business has multiple facets. Aside from hosting events, her business also serves as a manufacturer, retailer and restaurant and wine tasting space. She explained how she used to be an attorney and left a very good legal career to dive head first into this entrepreneurial venture.

“I invested everything I have and everything my family has in growing this business for the last seven years, just to see it disintegrate over the last three months,” LaBelle said. “It’s been an absolutely heartbreaking endeavor.”

She said the winery applied for and received the maximum $150,000 amount from the Small Business Administration, but cited that the real problem is that even if they can get through with the PPP and SBA loans, it will be a challenge because of the additional loan overhead and burden. LaBelle said it will be interesting how it plays out with the businesses lower cash flow.

Moreover, as one of many entrepreneurs in the state, she said asking for this kind of ongoing federal and state aid is difficult, citing how if people do not ask for this help, New Hampshire will be a state full of box stores and chains.

Shaheen said she knows for those who do events, they are looking at years and not months in recovery, citing how, “We can’t afford to let you all go under in the meantime.”

While LaBelle operates in the south-central section of the state, Corrine Rober in the northern corner of New Hampshire also is concerned for what is ahead. Rober is the owner of Bear Rock Adventures in Pittsburg and said that being from the North Country, tourism is the only infrastructure they have for the economy at this point, citing how it is not really strong yet. Her business opened Friday.

Moreover, Rober said if they do not have forgivenesses of these loans and instead have to incur more debt, the potential of their infrastructure for tourism to collapse is much greater.

“We have four or five restaurants in the area, so if one, two of three go down, that means that we can’t even support our tourism,” Rober said.

SkiNH represents approximately 30 ski areas in New Hampshire, and Executive Director Jessyca Keeler said the season was cut short by probably two to four weeks, which is important revenue in the spring in terms of ticket sales, restaurants, retail and lessons. It also caused season pass sales to drop dramatically. Looking ahead at summer operations, a lot of businesses are not opening certain aspects, such as conferences, adding that banquets and weddings are getting canceled. She said those are some pretty major and important revenue sources for ski areas during the summer months.

“We’re dealing with those challenges, but then we’re also looking forward to the winter and wondering what’s that going to look like,” Rober said. “We have a feeling that some of the restrictions that we’re seeing on reopening right now are going to also impact us into the winter. Everyones talking about the next wave of COVID-19 coming through during the next flu season, and are we going to be looking at another 50-percent limit on our capacity in the winter months.”

Rober added that this is not known yet, rather just some speculation, but that these are things she believes are really concerning for a lot of their ski areas for not just the summer, but also into the winter.

Chief operating officer of Common Man Sean Brown said really what needs to be pushed for is the ability to open up, at least half capacity, inside restaurants in a safe manner. He explained that he has seen firsthand in the restaurant industry throughout the state over the last couple weeks that they are able to do outdoor dining in a safe manner.

“I do believe we are able to operate in a safe manner in a reduced capacity inside,” Brown said.

He asked the senator to do anything she can to encourage Gov. Chris Sununu to allow businesses to open indoor dining in a limited capacity with safety guidelines.

However, Shaheen said that the testing piece is really helpful while thinking of how to open back up.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.