Luca Paris doesn’t officially take over as president and CEO of the Greater Keene & Peterborough Chamber of Commerce until Sept. 1, but he’s already meeting with local business owners to learn what they want from their relationship with the organization.
“I know there’s a lot going on, but I also know that there’s a lot more we can do,” Paris said Tuesday morning at a gathering of about 20 downtown Keene business leaders. “So, my next couple of months are going to be meeting and saying just a simple phrase: ‘... In a perfect world, what [do] you envision the chamber being, as part of your world?’ ”
And at the meeting — convened by the Keene Downtown Group, a collection of Main Street-area business owners, and hosted at Paris’ Central Square restaurant, Luca’s Mediterranean Cafe — he heard a consistent message: Local merchants want more communication from, and collaboration with, the chamber.
“I could go on for days about what [organizations] we have, but nobody is talking to everybody,” Tim Pipp, owner of Beeze Tees Screen Printing, said of the various economic groups in the area, including the chamber, the Keene Young Professionals Network, the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship and the Keene Downtown Group. “And I would love the chamber to be, not necessarily the voice, but the organizational part of every group.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, attendees like Pipp and Ted McGreer of Ted’s Shoe & Sport expressed confidence in Paris’ ability to make the chamber a bigger presence in the heart of Keene.
“When I pay the dues to the chamber, I do it politically because it’s a great thing to be a downtown merchant and be a paying chamber member,” McGreer told Paris during the hourlong meeting. “But really, at the end of the day, I want to see more [return on investment]. I want to see the chamber more involved, and I think you’re the guy to do it.”
The chamber, which works to improve the local business climate through networking and programming, announced late last month that Paris would take over for retiring president and CEO Phil Suter, who has led the organization since 2013.
Paris, who has owned his eatery for 21 years, said he has started brainstorming how the chamber can increase communication not only in downtown Keene, but across the entire region. For example, he said he plans to develop an online platform to connect area entrepreneurs. This is especially important, Paris said, now that the chamber covers Peterborough, after its chamber merged with Keene’s earlier this year, primarily due to the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s different ways of creating communities, and creating a real online community where everyone is weighing in is going to be an important part of this,” Paris said. “So, whether you’re a member from Peterborough or Keene, we want you to see and hear everything that’s going on in all the places. So I think one of my first things is going to be creating this real online community, with postings, with interactions, with different ways of getting people together.”
Paris added that he’s still working on exact plans for this online platform, but believes it will be an effective way to engage all of the chamber’s 500-plus members. (The Sentinel is a chamber member.) This type of enhanced online presence could also help with another priority identified Tuesday: a unified events calendar.
“There’s probably 13,001 calendars that exist in Keene,” said Pipp, who serves on the chamber’s board. “I always see on the Facebook groups, ‘What’s going on in Keene?’ And people are spouting out what’s going on, but there’s not one place to check. And I’ve been saying that for years, that we need just a central hub. And if it lived at the chamber, that would make sense to me.”
And while much of Tuesday’s meeting focused on downtown Keene businesses, several local entrepreneurs encouraged Paris to take a more regional approach to his new role at the chamber. Denise Meadows, co-owner of CC&D’s Kitchen Market and Catering, who described herself as a “regional cheerleader,” noted that the chamber’s recently launched marketing push focusing on drawing visitors, workers, students and young families to the area is a good start.
“Even up until a year ago, it was Peterborough doing their thing and Keene doing their thing, and really not having that cohesive marketing,” she said. “So, this regional branding is kind of taking that, but there still needs to be more help with some of these organizations that are doing some of these things, and the communication of it.”
Paris said he plans to talk to business leaders throughout the area, and beyond, to help promote the Monadnock Region, and bring more events here. For instance, he said he wants the chamber to launch a Taste of Peterborough event, similar to the Taste of Keene food festival that drew thousands of people to Central Square last month.
“By just throwing that ball into the court and seeing who wants to pick it up and play, that’s what I’m excited about, and seeing what’s going to happen there,” he said. “Because Taste of Peterborough will happen. Taste of Keene is going to happen again. What other events can we do and be a facilitator for, creator of?”
And, Paris reassured the group, he believes this regional approach to the chamber will benefit them, too.
“Promoting the region is promoting Keene,” he said. “We are still the hub of this area.”
Marco Grimaldi’s dream was to become a photographer.
A Brooklyn resident for about seven years, he’d started a photography business with two friends that took creative headshots for artists, actors and models.
“After seeing his work, I realized it’s not just a picture of someone’s head, it’s fashion, it’s art,” said Grimaldi’s mom, Susan Rosano. “... It’s a way to get someone’s attention.”
In February 2020 — as COVID-19 was spreading in the U.S., but before it upended daily life — Grimaldi, 31, was sure he had contracted the disease, though Rosano said there were no tests available to confirm it. As time went on he felt fine, until about a month later when he noticed red spots on his feet and hands.
“It turned out he had bone-marrow failure. So what that does is it ruins your immune system, it completely destroys it really, and you can get that from a virus,” said Rosano, of Guilford, Vt.
His doctor believed COVID-19 most likely caused his bone-marrow failure, she said.
Grimaldi was put on a bone-marrow transplant list, and though 10 matches were found in New York City alone, his mother said, no one was donating out of fear of contracting the virus.
Doctors ended up finding a match for him in Europe by June 30, and had it shipped overnight, but it was too late. Grimaldi died July 2.
“Marco’s immune system was going down, down, down, and all these infections were happening,” Rosano said. “... His bone marrow had gotten to nothing, and his heart had an infection.”
In his honor, Rosano submitted his photography to the Latchis Art Gallery in Brattleboro. The show, which will be at the Main Street space through the end of the month, is the first to display Grimaldi’s work.
“The whole thing is very precious, and it’s a beautiful memory of my creative son,” she said.
Grimaldi grew up in Cromwell, Conn., and first dabbled in photography as a freshman in high school. He soon became passionate about it, Rosano said, and attended the Hartford Academy of the Arts his final year of high school.
He continued studying photography at Burlington College in Vermont before moving to Brooklyn to pursue a career.
In addition to running his photography business, Grimaldi worked full-time as a New York City private investigator. Because of this steady income, he often would take headshots for people regardless of whether they could pay, Rosano added.
Grimaldi’s Latchis show — called PoloShoots, a nod to his company under the same name — opened July 2, the first anniversary of his death, and features 35 of his photos. People can view the work, by appointment only, through July 31.
Rosano mostly put together the show herself, with printing help from the Vermont Center for Photography in Brattleboro. She said it was always Grimaldi’s hope to have his own show one day, but he could never afford it, despite her offers to help offset the cost.
“I used to ask him about it, and he would say, ‘I don’t have the money to do my own show.’ Especially living in Brooklyn, it would cost an arm and a leg to rent a space and do the framing and matting,” she said.
Latchis Executive Director Jon Potter said the exhibit was the perfect first show to have coming out of the pandemic.
“I felt very strongly that this was something the Latchis should do, and I was deeply moved to have the opportunity,” he said in an email. “Throughout the pandemic, I have been focused on the role the Latchis can play in helping our community come to grips with and process the pandemic and its deep impacts. Presenting Marco’s photographs is one meaningful way we can do this.”
Moving forward, Rosano said she doesn’t plan to submit her son’s photos to any other galleries because of all the work needed to put on a show. (Besides, most of his pieces have already been claimed by family and friends.)
But having the Latchis show as a final sendoff for him felt “really good,” Rosano said, and helped her grieve her son.
“He was a really wonderful, creative human being since the day he was born,” she said, “and it feels like a real culmination of his life to me — both happy and sad at the same time.”
To book an appointment to view the PoloShoots show at the Latchis Art Gallery, contact Susan Rosano at email@example.com.
MARLBOROUGH — More than 150 years ago, the founder of the Frost Free Library gifted the granite building to the town of Marlborough. A member of his family has helped oversee it ever since.
That’s because one of the conditions of the donation was that a descendent of Rufus Frost must always have a seat on the board of trustees. Modern members of the family say they don’t know why the requirement was put into the library’s original charter, but they’ve honored it all the same.
Rufus Frost V, 27, is the latest Frost to hold that board seat, and the fourth of his name to do so, along with his grandfather, great-grandfather and the first Rufus Frost, who founded the library in the 1860s.
Though he lives in Boston, where he works for the consulting firm Slalom, the library is still a big priority for Frost, who has easily been able to stay involved in board meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to the increased use of teleconference technology. Before that, he made the trip to Marlborough for every other monthly meeting.
Frost took over the board seat in 2018, after his grandfather, Rufus Frost III, who lives in Keene and had served on the board since 1974, decided it was time to pass the torch. When asked to step up to the plate, the younger Frost said he was glad to get involved. Growing up in Utah, he had spent a lot of time in the library when his family would return to New England during the summer.
“I was excited,” he said. “It sort of felt like it was an honor in our family ... to get to do something like this and try to continue on what Rufus Frost I started.”
The first Rufus Frost gave the Frost Free Library to the town of Marlborough in 1866, just after the Civil War ended. Frost III and Frost V said their ancestor wanted to give back to the town where he was born. And both say there has never been any concern about finding a member of the family to hold the board seat.
“We have lots of family around to choose from,” said Frost III.
But the younger Frost, who is set to marry his fiancée, Anna Jacobsen, next month, said that given all the remote-communication options that exist today, it’s cool to imagine that his future children might be able to inherit the position.
The first Rufus Frost was born in Marlborough, but spent much of his life in Massachusetts, where he worked in the textile industry, according to his descendants. He also had a successful political career, serving as the fifth mayor of Chelsea, Mass., and later as a U.S. representative for Massachusetts’ Fourth District.
According to Frost III, the first Frost was a dedicated abolitionist, supporter of the temperance movement and a strong advocate for educational equality between the genders.
“He was a firm believer in women’s education,” Frost III said, “which wasn’t a huge movement in those days.”
The stipulation about always having a Frost relative on the board is just one of the odd things about the library’s charter. It also states that each member of the Marlborough Board of Selectmen must also always have a seat at the table, another rule still honored today. Frost V said he thinks it was a smart way to set up the board.
“Oftentimes the trustees have a thought or a vision on the direction [the library] should go,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s a town building and town land, and the selectmen should have a say in that as well.”
Since coming on board, Frost V has been involved with plans to add a substantial addition to the building, which will include a community room that he said will enable the library to expand its offerings. His grandfather noted that the addition will make the building more accessible.
Bob Sweet, a long-time member of the board, has been handling the financial side of the project, according to Frost V, and recently completed a successful fundraising campaign. Sweet said the library raised $850,000 toward the addition, and the trustees are getting ready to put the project out to bid.
In addition to fostering a love for reading, Frost V said, the library serves as a central gathering place for the community. Seeing the impact the pandemic has had on Marlborough has highlighted the need to help the town rebound, he said, and the library is one way to bring the town together.
“I feel a sense of responsibility to the town of Marlborough to do everything I can to make sure it’s a successful community,” he said. “And that, I think, is obviously what [Rufus Frost] the first was trying to do in giving this library to Marlborough.”
The early end of generous federal unemployment benefits was supposed to mitigate hiring challenges. It hasn’t, or at least not much. “We’re hiring” signs still hang everywhere, nearly a month after Gov. Chris Sununu ended all unemployment benefits for nearly 9,600 people and reduced them by $300 a week for others.
“When we heard (federal) unemployment was ending, it was like ‘Yes!,’ ” said Bridget McKerley, director of human resources for the Duprey Cos., which owns four hotels and the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. “But as it got close ... it was, ‘Why is no one calling me back?’ ”
McKerley, who is trying to fill 15 positions, said the staff shortage is forcing the company to leave hotel rooms vacant just as tourism is heating up. “It could not be a worse time,” she said.
Experts said hiring challenges predate the pandemic but have become more dire as businesses try to get back on track after 15 months of limited income.
They point to a dearth of younger workers; lack of affordable child care and housing; too few skilled workers for fast-growing fields like health care and manufacturing; and employees rethinking work-life balance. They even cite the new restriction on teaching divisive concepts, such as systemic racism.
The Business and Industry Association, which represents 400 members in a variety of industries, supported the early end of federal unemployment benefits and opposed the divisive concepts legislation, citing the hiring challenges both times.
“I don’t think anyone thought (ending federal unemployment early) was going to be the single solution to end the hiring problem,” said David Jouvet, senior vice president for public policy at the association. “There are hiring problems around the country, and New Hampshire is not immune to that. One solution is that we need to make sure that New Hampshire is viewed as a positive state to move to. (The divisive concepts legislation) doesn’t help portray the state as open and inclusive, not only for millennial- and minority-owned businesses, but for employees that may be thinking of moving here.”
Unemployment claims have been dropping in New Hampshire over the last few months, and were down again last month by 19 percent, according to the state Department of Employment Security. But that hasn’t translated into the new hires employers expected.
Economics professor Patricia M. Anderson of Dartmouth College cited both a lack of affordable child care and workers who are re-evaluating their lives.
“I think there are a lot of people taking the pandemic to really take stock of what they want to do with their careers and are making changes,” she said. “And it seems like part of what’s going on right now is in fact a kind of mismatch problem where people want different jobs and employers need workers but not everybody knows who’s available.”
Daniel Masera, who has owned Plymouth Ski and Sports for 30 years, was among those counting the days until the federal unemployment ended June 19. But hiring has hardly improved since then. No one has responded to his Indeed job posting. His “help wanted” sign has generated inquiries but few hires.
Masera said job candidates want a higher wage than he can pay and don’t want to work for it. “I thought it was going to help a little bit,” he said. “But now I don’t know.”
Unable to solve the systemic challenges related to housing and skilled labor, employers are experimenting with creative — and generous — incentives.
Nurses are being offered $10,000 signing bonuses. Many employers have increased wages and vacation time, and offer free training and a paycheck for attending classes. One employer pitched his remote positions as a chance to stay home with pets and avoid the chore of choosing work outfits every day.
At the Duprey Cos., McKerley and her team have been brainstorming ways to fill their positions. But they are also putting as much thought into retaining the employees they have. Workers are paid bonuses for referring new hires, and getting a bump in wages and vacation time. They are also awarded gift cards to local businesses for a job well done. The company started a free telehealth service that provides employees access to a nurse practitioner every day. And McKerley is working now on a new sabbatical program that will allow those employees who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week a block of several weeks off with pay.
“People have been getting out of the hospitality world,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of searching for different incentives and programs to make hospitality fun again.”