After three months of COVID-19-triggered closures, the rest of New Hampshire’s economy was permitted to reopen Monday.
Performance venues, amusement parks, concert halls, music and art education facilities, and adult day programs were all officially able to get back to business. As with most companies and organizations that had already been allowed to reopen, restrictions are in place, including requirements for face coverings, social-distancing guidelines and, in some cases, directives to operate at a limited capacity.
As concerns about COVID-19 intensified, companies across the state were forced to close March 27 after Gov. Chris Sununu issued a stay-at-home order requiring nonessential businesses to cease in-person operations. Since May — and amid a steady decline of new COVID-19 cases spanning the month of June — New Hampshire has been gradually reopening various sectors of its economy.
But in this region and beyond, the closures’ impact have been wide reaching and will likely be long felt, with New Hampshire’s unemployment rate for May recorded at 14.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is down slightly from April’s rate of 17.1 percent but still a dramatic increase over 2.4 percent in March.
Locally, Audrey’s Cafe, Piedra Fina and Elm City Bagels are among area staples that have closed for good.
Gary Tateosian, owner of Synergy, a clothing boutique on Main Street in Keene, said his customers have been eager to show support for area businesses to ensure they survive the downturn. He said he’s stayed busy since reopening on May 11, the first day retail businesses in New Hampshire were permitted to do so.
“They’re happy we survived and are open,” Tateosian said of his patrons. “No one wants to see another business go out; even some of these big stores are going out. It’s sad.”
At least two area theaters, Keene Cinemas 6 and the Peterborough Community Theatre, are waiting until mid-week to open their doors. Both plan to do so Wednesday, starting off by showing older movies.
On the other hand, The Colonial in Keene announced Monday that it will extend its closure to expedite a construction and renovation project. Plans call for enhancing the existing Main Street theater and adding a smaller theater on Commercial Street. In a news release, the theater said it makes better economic sense to stay closed rather than sell only a fraction of the tickets it normally would due to public-health restrictions.
Monday also marked the last day that larger Granite State hotels were restricted to operating at a lower capacity. When hotels were permitted to reopen June 5, those with more than 20 rooms were limited to booking at half capacity.
Matthew Blanchette, general manager at the Courtyard by Marriott Keene, said he’s hoping to see an increase in traffic once that restriction expires Tuesday. He said the hotel, which stayed open throughout the pandemic to house essential workers, has already seen an increase in guests since reservations were allowed to resume at the beginning of the month.
“We have seen an uptick in traffic since [the state] lightened the restrictions on leisure travel,” Blanchette said. “We’ve been full.”
Throughout May and June, the state has staggered the reopening of various industries. In May, restaurants resumed outdoor service, retail establishments could open at reduced capacity, and hair salons and barber shops were given the go-ahead to provide basic cuts and coloring services. In June, restaurants were able to offer indoor service again, camps were able to reopen and were hotels permitted to accept reservations.
Like many other businesses, The Toadstool Bookshop in Keene managed to remain open during most of the stay-at-home order by offering curbside pick-up. The store continues to offer the service to its customers, despite having been open for in-person shopping since June 15, according to store manager Don Luckham. The book retailer also has locations in Peterborough and Nashua.
Although the bookshop could have reopened in mid-May, Luckham said Toadstool held off for a couple extra weeks to ensure it could be done safely. The store has masks and hand sanitizer available at the door, has put more space between registers and is keeping a close eye on how many people are inside the shop at a given time.
While the days haven’t been too busy, Luckham said, they also haven’t been slow. He said the steady stream of customers seems to be divided between excitement to be in a store again and concern that reopening public spaces will cause further spread of the virus.
“Every day, we’re getting people who are thanking us for opening up,” Luckham said. “At the same time, there are those that are hoping there isn’t a second wave.”
Observing the spike in cases in other states, he said, customers are “concerned we might have to close down” again in the future.