N.H.'s Small Businesses Grapple With Changing Economic Landscape | New Hampshire Public Radio

N.H.'s Small Businesses Grapple With Changing Economic Landscape

Mar 30, 2020

Local businesses are adjusting to a new normal as they try to plan for the coming months.
Credit Wikimedia

Business across the state are facing tough decisions, with some deciding to close their doors, either temporarily or permanently, while others, like restaurants, are choosing to offer only take-out options.

We'll discuss how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting small businesses, what they are doing to cope with this new reality, and how they can plan for the future. 

Air date: Tuesday, March 31, 2020 from 9-10 a.m.

GUESTS:

Credit Sara Plourde

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange. The coronavirus has brought much of the New Hampshire economy to a halt, especially after the governor announced the closure of nonessential businesses late last week. Although that decision was widely praised for its public health impact, it has hit our once robust economy very hard. And so today on The Exchange, a two hour special focused on the economic impact of this pandemic. In this hour, we talk with local businesses. Then at 10:00 o'clock, the latest on state support for the newly unemployed. Our guests for this hour are Jennifer Wheeler. She's president of the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce. Jennifer, welcome. Good to have you.

Jennifer Wheeler:
Thanks so much for having me.

Laura Knoy:
And also with us is Phil Suter, president and CEO of the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce. And Phil, welcome back. Good to have you, too.

Phil Suter:
Good morning Laura. Thank you for the opportunity.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and later, we'll hear from several local businesses, including one from the Nashua area, one from the North Country. And again, we really want to hear from our listeners if you're involved in local business. If you're just concerned about your local economy. So Phil and Jennifer, what is the playbook for this for New Hampshire businesses? What models or examples are there for such dramatic change in such a short time? And Phil, I'll go to you first.

Phil Suter:
Well, thanks, Laura. The short answer is that there is no playbook for this, simply based on the scope of it and the uncertain duration of it. One way I think I think about it is that we're having a kind of societal stress test, much the way the banking industry went through 10 years ago or so, that maybe we haven't seen anything like this since World War 2 or thereabouts. But that said, you know, we have we have a great state, we have great people in the state and great communication at the local level. And chambers of commerce around the state are really focused on the local level, but it's just never been on this scale. We're changing the tires on the car while the car's going really fast.

Laura Knoy:
Absolutely. I know how you feel. Well, Jennifer, there's no Harvard Business School case studies about how to survive a pandemic. When you're a local business, how are you sort of navigating this and helping your members out?

Jennifer Wheeler:
Well, thanks, Laura. You know, we've used the word unprecedented a lot, and I think that's a pretty accurate description of the situation right now. I think, as Phil said, chambers play an important role in the business community and we're needed now more than ever. Our mission is to support business, build community through collaboration, communication, advocacy and education. And that's what we're focused on right now.

Laura Knoy:
That's what you're focused on. And how do you feel about Phil's comment that, you know, you're trying to make a plan like changing all four tires while the car is still running? What's your sense of what it's like these days for your members? Jennifer?

Jennifer Wheeler:
I love that analogy, Phil. Is it okay if I borrow that?

Laura Knoy:
Right. I think, you know, the the analogy the other analogy that I've heard is kind of like drinking out of the fire hose, you know, every day is different. The situation changes sometimes hour by hour, day by day. And so there definitely is not a playbook. And trying to trying to adapt as best as possible is right now does feel a little bit like drinking out of a firehose. What types of businesses in your community, Jennifer, have been the most affected?

Jennifer Wheeler:
Well, certainly restaurants and our small Main Street businesses are taking a significant hit. But, you know, it's really clear every business and every industry has been impacted in some way across the board.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and speaking of businesses, we really do want to hear from local businesses this hour, tell us how you're doing in this sort of wild, crazy situation that we're in right now, especially with the closure of nonessential businesses late last week. Let's take a call. This is Cathy from Sugar Hill. Hi, Cathy. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi, Laura. Thanks. Thanks for having me. I'm actually the owner of Polly's Pancake Parlor here in Sugar Hill.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, my goodness. The famous Polly's pancake house. What's going on at Polly's?

Caller:
It's deathly quiet. So we we tried doing the takeout for the past two weekends only because we were planning on being open those two weekends. And, you know, my country, my time, my season up here in the North Country is pretty quiet anyway. And we had some loyal supporters, which was fantastic. But we've decided to observe our already scheduled spring break for the next couple of weeks and probably longer than we had planned. But it's we took time yesterday to shut down refrigeration, clean out things. And and now it's just sort of like a ghost town. It's unnerving.

Laura Knoy:
I've heard from other tourism related businesses, especially in the northern part of the state, but really throughout New Hampshire that, you know, March and April are kind of the slow season. Some people shut down or take time off during that time. What are you planning for in the spring or can you even make plans right now?

Caller:
Well, you know, the hardest part is our employees. I mean, I I literally cried on the phone two weeks ago with the health with the unemployment office, just making sure my employees are going to be taken care of and never had to do this. To lay 40 people off was heartbreaking. But I'm glad they're at least being somewhat taken care of. I have a small mostly the family crew was working on some small projects. Anyway, we do cleaning, deep cleaning. Take this time to do some planning for the future, which is hard to do right now. It it's just really difficult to keep on like business as normal and and and function. And it's taken me a good solid two weeks to finally get back sort of on track.

Laura Knoy:
Kathy, I'm curious, because some businesses carry out is obvious. You know, pizza places, sub shops, you know, Chinese food, but other restaurants don't really lend themselves to carry out. Was that a easy or hard decision for you to just say, you know, forget the carry out, it's just not working?

Caller:
Well, you know, we we may come back to it. And once we get if this keeps going on long into too, may we we probably will reopen up for a limited amount. We sort of had a model online anyway because we kind of did it in the wintertime when it was slower season. But it it doesn't really work for us. You know, a lot of people think of pancakes on the Styrofoam or recyclable plate. So it's it's a little bit different for us. But it just you know, it's not a huge moneymaking adventure, especially here in Sugar Hill. Not a lot of foot traffic that's always going by, especially now that stay at home order has been lined up in place.

Laura Knoy:
Right. Well, Kathy, it's really good to hear from you. My goodness. Your place is famous and I hope it help it recover soon. Thank you for calling in.

Caller:
It will, thank you so much. We've had some wonderful support from people. Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
Bye-bye. Today on The Exchange, it's a two hour special looking at the economic effects of the Coronavirus with shut downs and slowdowns widespread across the state. We're checking in this hour with members of the state's business community. And later at 10:00, we'll talk about new unemployment benefits. Phil to you, what about in Keene? What types of businesses seem to be especially hard hit in your area?

Phil Suter:
Well, I think Jen was right that it affects everybody and certainly the ones on Main Street are very affected. Some were better positioned than others a little bit in the sense that they were already in the takeout business. If if they were restaurants or in the delivery business, if there were some other kind of business. But what I find really heartening is that particularly in Keene and downtown Keene, Luca Paris, who owns Luca's Mediterranean Cafe, has been kind of quarterbacking the restaurant community there and and sharing best practices about how to do cleaning, about how to do curbside pickup and basically how to be in the takeout business. So there's a huge kind of community that's emerging and communicating now, really even more than ever. We've had a couple of restaurants who had great takeout numbers over the weekend. There's a very strong buy local kind of inclination in the Monadnock region. And people are doing that wherever they can.

Laura Knoy:
Many listeners have been responding to NHPR's survey about how this crisis has affected their work. Here's a few from the hospitality industry since we're talking about it. Marianne in Epping wrote, I'm a travel advisor running a small business in New Hampshire and my entire business is commission based. Much of it with the cruise industry. Marion says, I've worked through Ebola, H1N1, Zika, multiple ice storms and hurricanes and consider myself to be resilient to the nature of business. This time, though, I am anxious about the turnaround time for when families feel safe to travel again. So that's Marion in Epping. Meg in Etna says, My travel related business has had 70 percent cancellations. And Nancy in Hillsboro says, I am self-employed in the seasonal motel industry due to reopen on May 1st. This is going to weigh heavily on my businesses and have a devastating effect on my finances unless there is a quick turnaround. You know, Phil, you gave some examples of the restaurant industry in Keene kind of coming together and trying to help everyone promote this takeout model. Jennifer, how about you? What are some steps or examples that you can give us from some of these hard hit businesses, steps that they're taking to double down, get together, make it a little bit better?

Jennifer Wheeler:
We've seen like in Keene, we've seen lots of community organizations and businesses partnering in new and exciting ways, which, you know, I think will continue when we're on the other side of this situation. I think it's clear that the definition of business as usual is being redefined for everybody. For small businesses, some have temporarily closed. Others reduced their hours or the services they provide. Some are operating remotely. And like Kathy had shared, you know, they're revising budgets, doing financial planning, taking time to work on their business, whether it's some kind of renovation or upgrading their online presence or working on their brand. So we're seeing that, you know, businesses are taking this time to to to focus and wear it a little bit.

Laura Knoy:
What's the number one concern, Jennifer, that you hear from your members? I'm guessing there's a lot, but what always seems to bubble to the top?

Jennifer Wheeler:
I think right now what we're hearing is the concern because I think this is unprecedented and we've never been here before. There is a lot of uncertainty as to what the future holds. The concerns that I've heard are around, you know, what businesses need to survive. Money, staff and customers. And when we're on the other side of this, they want to make sure that those pieces are still there.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. And we'll talk a little bit later about some of the money, as you put it, Jennifer. There are lots of loans coming from the state and federal government. And I want to get both of your thoughts on that as well. But how about you, Phil, in the Keene area? What's the number one concern you'd say that you hear from your members?

Phil Suter:
I think Jennifer hit it pretty well, it's uncertainty. All businesses are are dealing with three things kind of simultaneously. One is this ramping down that's been going on with the closure curtailment of non-essential businesses. The other is the next one is survival. I mean, how do we just survive today and how do we get through the next few weeks? And that's where some of the loans and grants and things that you just referred to may be very helpful and indeed essential. And then the third piece of it, which is something we're going to have to get to if we aren't getting to it already. And that is what happens when the all clear is sounded. What happens when it's OK to open again? We're not going to be opening. By and large, most businesses with the same exact business model as we had going into this. So the degree to which businesses can be thinking about that, you know, grocery stores, for example, have had hours early in the morning, usually for some of our older citizens. You know, maybe that's a good idea to do all the time. So what the degree to which people are able to think creatively and be ready for that time, in spite of all the challenges about staff and customers and cash flow and all those things, try to spend a little bit of time thinking about what it will be like and what your business model will be like on the other side.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I want to bring another voice into our conversation. This is Lori Alderin. She and her husband owned the Beale House in Littleton. It's a bed and breakfast as well as a restaurant. And Lori, thank you very much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

Lori Alderin:
Thanks for having me.

Laura Knoy:
So I'm guessing, Lori, the BNB part of your operations has closed. When did that happen? What's that been like for you?

Lori Alderin:
Correct. The we we have had the real side shut down for two full weeks and probably the 13th of March was our last room reservation.

Laura Knoy:
And we just heard from actually the owner of Polly's Pancake House, which was great of her to call in. And she said she cried when she had to call employment security and try and get her employees all on unemployment insurance. What have you had to do with the people who work for you, Lori?

Lori Alderin:
We it was lovely to hear Cathy's voice. We have had to do the same. And if that was those calls, as she said, are are incredibly difficult to make. And these are people who supported you and your business and have worked tirelessly for us. So to have to to have them call and let them know we don't know when they'll be coming back to work has just been a difficult piece. And additionally, it's been hard. We've been trying to support them as they pursue unemployment. It's it's not a quick and easy process. It takes a little bit of time and legwork. And some of them have never navigated it before. So they're everybody's learning is in the process also.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, that's interesting. Well, I would encourage them to listen and call in our next hour, because we've got the deputy commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security on the show to talk specifically about that. So that's interesting to hear you say that. Yeah. Before all this happened, Lori, how many employees did you have and how long were you guys in business?

Lori Alderin:
Sure so we're entering our fifth year of business. And most of our employees, we have probably three or four full time employees and 10 staff total.

Laura Knoy:
How has the restaurant side of your business been affected? Lori, I've read that your husband is the the chef on the restaurant side?

Lori Alderin:
He is. So we're in a unique position in that we closed the restaurant Saturday, the 14th of March, was our last in dining service and opened that following Wednesday during the takeaway. And Adam is doing it singlehandedly, essentially. And that's an unique opportunity for us because we are chef owner operated. It's not a model that would probably work or make fiscal sense if we were paying someone to be our chef. So essentially what we've been doing with that is having people call in their orders by a certain time in the day. We've limited the menu per day. It's really small and asking folks to place their orders. And Adam is filling those orders and then keeping it contactless and leaving it out for folks to pick up.

Laura Knoy:
And how robust is that, Lori? You know, in this environment, it's I myself am doing less takeout than usual because everybody's home. I'm really not going out that much. So I actually found myself not doing as much takeout because I'm just less busy. People have time to cook. So I wonder how that's going for you.

Lori Alderin:
Certainly. I mean, in terms of sales comparatively to what we would typically do in the restaurant, we're probably doing 15 percent of the sales we might do in the same four days. So it's a drastic. That said, you know, I think and we're not you know, we we're not a fine dining restaurant, but we're also not a fast casual spot either. So it's we're trying to pare those menu items to make them things that are appealing for people to take away and take home. But it is you know, we've seen a tremendous support from our local community, which I think Littleton and the North Country area is, you know, tremendous in that respect in that people are excited to see that we have it there, have an opportunity for us. And they have been doing that, which we're incredibly grateful for.

Laura Knoy:
So people feel like they're supporting community when they come in and, you know, pick up a meal that your husband cooked.

Lori Alderin:
Exactly right. I mean, that's that's the sense we're getting. And we're hearing from a lot of regulars, which we really, really appreciate.

Laura Knoy:
You've got a lot of challenges, Lori, and my heart goes out to you and all those small businesses that are really just trying to figure this out. What's the most immediate challenge for you?

Lori Alderin:
I think the uncertainty that everyone's speaking about, it is really clear. You know, I there's there's many layers to that uncertainty. One is, you know, how long will this go on? And so what are the next steps? The week by week process at which we're pursuing our business is challenging as well, I mean, essentially every week we stop and say, my husband I sit down and say, OK, was this worth it to sustain our business? Was it safe for our family? Is it a healthy choice? And can we continue to do this another week and still have it fulfill all of those benchmarks?

Laura Knoy:
Well, what's your message, Lori, to the policy makers of New Hampshire?

Lori Alderin:
I think that's a tough that's a tricky question, but I think for us is to, you know, to provide some level of certainty that that they are considering small business as they're doing this and have an understanding of what that uncertainty looks like for the future, for for someone who is is literally in it day to day. And then on top of that. I think, you know, there's some great, great opportunities out there. But not knowing how long this is going to go on makes it difficult to decide how and when to pursue those opportunities, because we don't know what things will look like on the other side. I think, you know, our community is strong and will continue to rally and support the small businesses in it. But, you know, it's there is a lot of unknown. So to the more known we can have in this time, the better.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Lori, thank you very much. And good luck to you and your husband.

Lori Alderin:
Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Laura Knoy:
That's Lori Alderin, she and her husband own the Beal House in Littleton. A bed and breakfast as well as a restaurant. Coming up, we'll hear from a lot more business owners. And we'll talk to Bruce Burke, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in New Hampshire. We'll hear what he's hearing from his members. More in a moment.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic here in New Hampshire. In this first hour, we're talking with members of the state's business community about the shutdowns, slowdowns and how they're coping. With me for the hour, Jennifer Wheeler, president of the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce, and Phil Suter, president and CEO of the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce. And Phil, to you, what did you pull out of that conversation that we had with Lori, boy, just, you know, trying to figure it out day by day, week by week.

Phil Suter:
Well, it's heartbreaking. And, you know, I don't think we should sugarcoat what's going on. There are businesses who are very concerned about their ability to simply provide. We we have those in our part of the state, and I'm sure they're all over the state, whether it's a wellness business. I heard about who just expanded a few months ago and now has no revenue and or a hair salon. This has been building itself up for 10 years now and really scared that they're going to lose it all. So that's that's very heartbreaking. What I think is is important is that businesses reach out, whether it's to a chamber or to their municipality or to some other agency in their community to get the information that they need about where help may be found. And it's information triage is kind of the business. We're in those chambers, this state. There's a lot of information out there. And it's very confusing for perhaps and for certainly for businesses of all kinds. So reach out. And for those people who want to help a business, you know, ask them, how can I help? Because they they they need it. And there are people out there who have the ability to help.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Jennifer, to that point, Lori did say that people in Littleton are, you know, buying those takeout meals from the Beal House just to kind of say that they support their local business. What can Granite Staters who care about their mainstream economies and I know people in Exeter love their their main street economies. What can they do to support these local companies in this time?

Jennifer Wheeler:
Well, I think, Phil, you know, honestly hit the nail on the head. We're seeing, and Lori, you mentioned this a little bit as well, which is the the outpouring of support from community. It's it's it's overwhelming. And we're seeing that the community now more than ever recognizes the importance of supporting local business. So my advice, as Phil said, would be to reach out and ask the local businesses how they're doing and what they need. It could be purchasing gift cards now to use later or buying items for future pickup. That said, you know, honestly, I think it starts with following the guidelines that are put in place to protect the public's health. Because the reality is that the quicker we can get the situation under control and begin to flatten the curve, the quicker our businesses and communities can recover.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Let's go back to our listeners. And Nola is calling in. Hi, Nola. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi. How are you?

Laura Knoy:
OK. Go ahead, Nola.

Caller:
Well, I am a solo business owner, I own Pilates Etc in Tilton and my husband, he actually moved here to open the business about two and a half years ago, so it's pretty young business and I tried to keep open till about Thursday. Last week I reduced my class sizes to three people so I'd have nine feet distance between those who wanted to come. But my attrition was like 90 percent within a week. And then I had to close Friday.So we're closed. There's no business at all.

Laura Knoy:
So what are you going to do, Nola, for the time being?

Caller:
Well, I applied for an employment. I'm trying to do an application for SBA loans right now, looking at my savings, we're going through our financials closely with our accountant. I'm doing everything I can to stay connected to my clients and trying to like someone said earlier, be is creative and inventive as I can to, you know, keep the doors open when they reopen. And it's tough. It's tough. Yeah, there's a lot of uncertainty.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, I heard about the owner of a yoga studio who had to close her studio really, really caring about the people that came, you know, three times a week for yoga is very important. And just heartbreaking for her to close that studio.

Caller:
Yeah. I haven't slept very well. Yeah, that's what's really hard. That when I had the classes the last couple of weeks, people were coming in saying how grateful they were that I was still open. So the only place they could go that they felt safe. And, you know, a healthy, safe place to be. We work out. And now that that's gone for a lot of my clients, one of the things I'm trying to do is figure out quick ways to get information to them, even if it's like little 5 minute YouTube workout, you know, body openers and simple stuff that people can do, examine equipment based studio for the most part. So in pilates you can do equipment or mat. And most people do equipment.

Laura Knoy:
Well and this relates to what somebody said earlier is just trying to change the business model. And when we come out of this, how are we going to do things a little bit differently? Nola, good luck to you. Thank you very much for calling.

Caller:
Can I ask a couple of questions, though?

Laura Knoy:
Actually Nola I've got, I'm so sorry I ever got a couple people that I need to move on to. Can you maybe just ask one question?

Caller:
Yes. Regarding the loans that are supposed to be out for small businesses that are coming out. I'm just wondering where people like myself who don't actually draw a payroll and who work for themselves and don't have multiple employees where we fit into that scenario because that is bringing me some sense of urgency as well.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I'm really glad you asked that question, Nola. And again, next hour, we've got the deputy commissioner for New Hampshire Employment Security talking about unemployment insurance. But Jennifer, can you guide her a little bit? We do hear a lot about, you know, SBA loans for small businesses and so forth. How do you even get started with that?

Jennifer Wheeler:
And you know, it is a little. The first place to start, honestly, is to go to the small business innovation. It's available, and they this through this process. Does that.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. I think we missed some of what you said there, could you say it again, please?

Jennifer Wheeler:
Sorry, but my my suggestion was to reach out to the New Hampshire district office of the Small Business Association because they help you navigate that process. And the resource again, they have advisors.

Laura Knoy:
I think we're having a problem with your phone and we will try to reconnect with you because we definitely want that information out there. Phil, I know the New Hampshire Bankers Association has said it wants to help, saying that local bankers are part of the community, too. What might banks do to ease the pain of this for small business owners like like our caller?

Phil Suter:
Well, I think it's important that any business that has a relationship with the banks or a loan with a bank reaches out to that bank and talks about their their loan. And many banks are either relaxing some of their repayment schedules or are doing some of that. We know there's a small chamber where we're a small business, too. And I just had a conversation with our bank yesterday. And so I would encourage people to reach out to their banks, as Jen was saying. Look at the SBA website. I've been in many places around the state. There are small business development centers. They're very good at interpreting what kinds of resources are available in their area. So a number of places to to reach out. And I think the important thing is that people do reach out and, you know, make some calls. And we don't know all the answers as a as a chamber. But we were pretty good at putting people in touch with the with the people that do not know the answers well and tour that.

Laura Knoy:
And we have with us now on the line is Bruce Burke. He's state director with the National Federation of Independent Businesses in New Hampshire. And Bruce, welcome back. Really good to have you.

Bruce Berke:
Good morning, Laura. I just wish I was here under better circumstances.

Laura Knoy:
You know, I was saying that earlier to our other guests. Absolutely, Bruce. Just remind us, what kind of business is your organization represents, please?

Bruce Berke:
Laura, the members of NFIB really the mom and pop of New Hampshire. These are businesses that either just a single sole provider or they might have five employees that might have 15 or 20. Some of the larger ones might approach 50 or 100, but most of them are, you know, 20 to 25 employees or less.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we just heard. I don't know if you were on the line then, Bruce. We just heard from Nola, who owns a small pilates studio up in the Lakes region. She's had to shut down. I'm sure you've heard stories like this again and again. And she was wondering how to connect with some of the assistance that might be out there from the state or federal governments. What do you think? What's the best way to sort of get started? She said she's feeling overwhelmed. And I'm guessing there are a lot of listeners who feel the same way.

Bruce Berke:
Well, I certainly understand that there's a lot of information coming at us from both the federal and state level. And a couple of your earlier guests talked about drinking from a firehose, and that's what it is felt like for the last couple of weeks. But with respect to Nola and her concerns and needs with the US Small Business Administration, there's on the New Hampshire Website, for COVID-19 under the Department of Business and Economic Affairs. There's a fair amount of information with respect to applying for small business loans, the Business Nuances Business Finance Authority, as well as its Community Development Finance Authority. And on the 18th of this month, the governor's request to have New Hampshire declared as a disaster area was granted by the Small Business Administration. And so there's a fact sheet on the website where you might put down to find out applying for an SBA loan. And it talks about what the components of that loan would be and how you go about getting it.

Laura Knoy:
I've heard a lot, Bruce, about either extremely low interest loans or forgivable loans, but eventually a loan has to be paid back. I wonder how your members are feeling about taking on more debt, even under very generous repayment terms that we're hearing about these days?

Bruce Berke:
Well, some loans are need to be repaid and others not necessarily, depending. How they end up being structured under the federal paycheck protection program that was passed. I guess and finally signed last Saturday once it got through the Senate and House is a structure whereby designed to, you know, aid businesses through this process and to allow them to come in and ask for up to let's see, I think it's about 250 percent of one month's business costs. And those business cards primarily focus on payroll. But then it can also help with utilities and rent and leases as well. So that that is a a program that if the business owner uses those moneys for those things that I just talked about for the eight week period between or any eight week period between February 15th and June 30th of this year, that would be a forgivable loan.

Laura Knoy:
How much are your members, Bruce, temporarily laying off workers so that they can collect unemployment insurance, which, by the way, has been expanded. And we'll hear about that in the next hour. But is this a pretty common practice these days? You know, employees, we love you. We appreciate you. We want to hire you back. But right now, we're laying you off so that you can get these benefits.

Bruce Berke:
You know, Laura, I hate to say it, but it is happening. And you've heard that from some of your earlier guests and callers. And it is heart wrenching. You know, these smaller businesses that are members of NFIB, they are really like family. And and it's really a very tough situation for both the employer and employee.

Laura Knoy:
Bruce, we've talked many times over the years, and I know you're a fiscal conservative and I wonder how you feel about this massive expansion of government in terms of unemployment insurance, in terms of, you know, loans to businesses and so forth. This is at some point going to blow up deficits and debt. And I just I sort of wonder how you feel about that.

Bruce Berke:
That's a tough one. Ah, thank you for asking. That's it. You know, I think that if we didn't do something like that, the situation would be worse. I think we really have got to come to the rescue of these small businesses and the business community in general. Otherwise, you know, as some of your guests have talked about this morning, on the other end, what are we going to be faced with? There's so much uncertainty out there. We don't know what the duration is going to be. And and, yes, there will be some retooling along the way. Businesses traditionally, you know, throughout history have, you know, changed whether it's due to new regulations or new markets or, you know, new competition. You know, businesses are always changing, always finding new ways to try and do things. And I think that you will see that once we begin to come out of this, the entrepreneurial spirit of this country is strong and it will take a while. But I think we will come back and we'll we'll be strong again.

Laura Knoy:
Well, a welcome message. Bruce Burke, thank you very much for being with us this hour. I appreciate it.

Bruce Berke:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
That's Bruce Burke. He's state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in New Hampshire. As we head into a break, here's another email from Evan who says, I own a residential summer camp for kids and teens in the Lakes region. We've received no guidance yet from the state on whether we will have a season or not. Evan says, My business likely will not survive if we cannot operate this year. The stimulus package also seems to have no provision for seasonal businesses with seasonal employees like mine. Evan, we will pick up that thought after a short break and take a lot more of your calls as well. So stay with us. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Next hour on The Exchange, new help for the newly unemployed. Stay with us for that at 10:00. Right now, we're talking with members of the state's business community about the shutdown slowdowns and how they're coping. Joining me from Keene is Phil Suter. He is president and CEO of the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce. And Phil, before we go to a couple other businesses that we're going to talk to, I want to get your thoughts about that e-mail from Evan. He runs a summer camp. He doesn't see a lot of support for seasonal businesses like his. What have you heard? New Hampshire certainly has a lot of seasonal businesses, both in terms of summer and winter activities.

Phil Suter:
It's a really good question. Laura and I have to be honest and say I don't know exactly what the provisions are for seasonal businesses, but to pick up on something that Bruce was talking about and the SBA is the acronym that comes up all the time these days. There are several SBA things going on at once and they're they're putting together the mechanics of it even as we speak. One of the things that people should know of is what's called the IDL or the economic injury disaster loan application. And that's that's very specific and and should be a little bit quicker in terms of getting money into the businesses hands. I think it's up to $10000 for small businesses and that may help people stay afloat even when they're not open. So I encourage again people to get in touch with SBA or get in touch with their chamber or their local city government or somebody who can point them in that direction. That's going to be helpful. But the seasonal question is a very, very good one. I'm going to look into it.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Evan, good luck to you. Boy, summer camps, a beloved part of life here in the Granite State for many families. So our best to you, Evan. Joining us now is another entrepreneur who has been set back by this pandemic. With us on the line is Kristen Hardwick. She's a Wilton-based photographer and co-owner of the Co-working House in Milford. And Kristin, good to have you. Thank you.

Kristin Hardwick:
Thank you for having me on.

Laura Knoy:
So let's talk about the photography business first. Kristin, what type of photography do you do?

Kristin Hardwick:
My main focus is headshots and branding photography for service based entrepreneurs. So photographing people.

Laura Knoy:
So not so much weddings and bar mitzvahs and and so forth.

Kristin Hardwick:
Nope. Nope. I gave up weddings and family portraits and anything like that about three years ago.

Laura Knoy:
And has your photography business mostly shut down? Kristen, are people still getting some of these professional headshots done?

Kristin Hardwick:
It has shut down almost entirely. There are few requests coming in. But given that we are non-essential, we've been asked to not operate business at this time. So we're kind of in a holding pattern, a wait and see.

Laura Knoy:
How did this happen for you, Kristin? Did your business kind of trickle off, as we heard from Nola earlier, who owns the pilates studio? Did it trickle off or was it just a sudden stop?

Kristin Hardwick:
It felt more like a sudden stop. I did have bookings out about six weeks when this started to happen. So we were able to reschedule. Some of my clients have postponed until later this summer. But then, you know, no new business is getting booked. So the pipeline will dry up eventually.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, for sure. Well, and I'd like to ask you about the other part of your business, and that's the coworking house in Milford. First off, what is that? Kristen, it sounds interesting.

Kristin Hardwick:
Yeah, it's a shared workspace and community for local entrepreneurs, remote workers, startup businesses, that sort of stuff. So we provide a great office space. Private offices, open court seating, conference rooms, you know, all the amenities and fast Wi-Fi.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. And I've heard about some of these businesses. How was it going before the pandemic?

Kristin Hardwick:
It was going awesome. We were down to about only two vacancies for our private offices and our open memberships were flourishing or we were beating all the odds, we were doing great.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, how much is that still up and running?

Kristin Hardwick:
So we are closed to the general public. We do have a few members who are considered essential employees, so they are still utilizing the space, but they all have separate private offices within that space so they can go and be distanced and safely working separate.

Laura Knoy:
How hopeful are you, Kristen, that both sides of what you do, the photography and the co-working space are going to be able to pull out of this once we're sort of given the all clear that it's safe to come out?

Kristin Hardwick:
Yeah, I think photography there will always be a need for. I think personally the one to one model might not be where my focus is going forward. The co-working business, I think, is going to see a huge expansion as a result of this. I think that in a year we'll look back and see this as, you know, a great opportunity. All of these companies have been forced to learn how to work remotely. All of these people have been forced to quarantine and work from home. So they're seeing the isolation and seeing how, you know, working from home isn't so best. And then I think also there's a lot of people that are going to come out on the other side of this without a job and be forced to kind of bootstrap or, you know, start working on that thing that they always wanted to work on, start a business. So I think in a year from now, we will be just fine. We'll be here and ready to serve our community.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, that's great to hear. So that's interesting. So people who've been dislocated by this, you know what? What might be an economic crisis, I don't want to get too dramatic, but people might say, you know, I always wanted to be a such and such. I'm just going to go for it. I'm going to start this venture. And, oh, by the way, I need a nice headshot. I think I'll call Kristen. So you're optimistic that that's going to happen?

Kristin Hardwick:
I'm cautiously optimistic. Hedging our bets here.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, it's great to hear from you. And thank you for the note of optimism, Kristen, we appreciate it.

Kristin Hardwick:
Thank you so much.

Laura Knoy:
That's Kristen Hardwick again. She's a photographer and she's co-owner of something called The Coworking House in Milford. And Phil Suter, so right back to our listeners. Alex is calling in from Holderness. Hi, Alex. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi, Laura. Thank you so much. Our number one, our restaurant is is for our staff. We've had to lay off 700 people and it's the biggest pain I've experienced this my life.

Laura Knoy:
Seven hundred people who had to let go at your restaurants, Alex?

Caller:
Yes. We we've closed eight of our 16 and we have seven or eight open. And that's that's biggest burden I have has been sent to our community. But we are we are feeding our farm, our common man, those people, and every day for their family meals. So that helps a little bit. And we, of course, started off by the people who can call our office and get help for if they're in need of food or and then we take care of them one at a time. And it's been it's just an emotionally draining and I feel for everyone.

Laura Knoy:
And I could hear your voice and. Yeah. Just to let listeners know, this is Alex Ray of Common Man family of restaurants. So, Alex, what's what's it been like for for you? I mean, you've been in business in New Hampshire for a long time. Oh, we lost Alex. OK, well, that's what happens when everyone is remote. Sometimes the lines drop. So, Alex, it was good to hear from you. And I have been reading about the support you've been trying to give to those 700 workers that you had to let go. Thanks a lot for calling in. Lori is calling in from Boscawen. Hi, Laurie. Go ahead. You're on The Exchange. Thanks for being with us.

Caller:
Hi, glad to be here and glad to hear these discussions with businesses. I think it's so important, especially in the small and micro business community, that we all share and work together to try to come out of this hole.

Laura Knoy:
What's your type of business, Laurie?

Caller:
I'm a florist, so technically I'm deemed essential. But the problem of being essential is if you don't have those non-essential businesses that provide you your your income in your work, then it's hard to be very essential for me. You know, the restaurants are primary because events occur at restaurants, table flowers occur at restaurants. So without them, I lose a good percentage of my business. Then also you go, of course, The churches and the churches have been canceled. Weddings are being canceled. Graduations are being canceled. Funerals are canceled. So that's the mainstay of the business. And then all the holidays. St. Patrick's Day, Easter, administrative professional's day. And if we lose Mother's Day in May, that's the biggest holiday for the floral industry. That's huge. And and no graduations, no dance recitals, no proms, no sports events. And those are other venues where we earn income. And my supplier. I've been in business 30 years and my major supplier closed, which is unheard of. They've been in business since the 1940s, laid off one hundred and twenty two employees. And, you know, so even getting product now is a challenge. And then you have to take everything you can get. And if you don't have the business coming in, what do you do? It's a perishable product. And we made the decision that rather than throw it away, which is happening throughout the industry or small farms and whatnot, and Dutch product is all being thrown away that we're going to do arrangements and give them way. So this weekend we did 350 arrangements for the Merrimack County Nursing Home. Today we did 28 arrangements for the Peabody home. And we're just thinking of people who are locked down that we can get our product to them rather than throw it away for a casket.

Laura Knoy:
Quick question. Did I hear you write that you are considered an essential business, correct?

Caller:
Correct.

Laura Knoy:
I'm kind of surprised by that, to be honest. I love flowers. Don't get me wrong, but I dont know, what are we to make of that? That florists are essential businesses?

Caller:
Well, we're an agricultural business. So we we use a lot of agricultural product that comes from smaller farms and we provide a way for them to sell their product into the marketplace. Also, I think we're emotional support because, quite frankly, have you ever seen a funeral without flowers or a wedding without flowers or any major event in your life with flowers? And then right now, because the nursing homes are in lockdown, hospitals are in lockdown, the only way for a family member to interact with their loved one is through flowers.

Laura Knoy:
It was kind of hard to hear you list that long list of events that you're usually working on very hard and contributing lots of flowers. You know, church services, Easter funerals, dance recitals, graduations. Wow. Laurie, it's tough. What are your hopes of how you will either maintain your way through this, and, as we've heard from a lot of businesses this hour, change your model when we all come out?

Caller:
Yes. Well, and the model is and I've got to say, even with 30 years of experience, I've never seen I've been through two recessions and 9/11. I've never seen anything like this. So it is a new world. But I keep in touch with all of my business colleagues whom I've provided services for for so many years. We're in communication with each other. We coach each other. We provide each other emotional support because we are of a strong mindset. We're small businesses. We're resilient that we're going to come out of this on the other side. We're coaching each others in terms of applying for SBA loans and doing what we can to help each other. And I think that's the strength of the small business community. We really are family and we work to help each other through these very difficult times.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, Laurie, it's good to hear from you and good luck. Thanks for calling in today.

Caller:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
And let's take one more call. Rudy is calling in from Rindge. Hi, Rudy. You're on The Exchange. Welcome. Go ahead.

Caller:
Hey, thanks for taking my call.

Sure.

Caller:
I'm an innkeeper here in Rindge, New Hampshire. I have a wood bound in. We have a restaurant and bar. We have a hotel. We do weddings and banquets. And we kind of like are losing weddings and family reunions, bookkeepers. You know, all the way through June now because people are so uncertain and all about my personal business and I want to give a shout out to my community, because if the last week was our first week to take out when this first started, we shut down the restaurant and hotel for a week just to strategize. We've put on an online ordering system on our website. We created a menu that had a really good variety because we knew people were going to, you know, that the moms cooking is not great, but sometimes she used the and you go, oh, order in Chinese food. So we wanted to make sure that, you know, there's a good variety out there for people, you know, fresh quality product. And the community really rallied behind it last week. We'll continue the momentum moving forward because it did soften the blow, although we're still taking a really big hit. I'm worried about the future. You know, it's nice to be coming around that allow me to keep my employees employed. And it just really feels good.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, that's great, Rudy, and I'm guessing that it's been especially tough for you in Rindge because the university there is shut down, so that may be a source of, you know, people coming in for graduations and people coming in to visit their kids and stuff.

Caller:
May is one of our busiest month of the year and coming out of the fall winter, which is always slow, we rely on you, you know, April and May, you know, to really get it going into the season and to lose it all, you know, we've already, you know, coming out the winter yet gearing up for, you know, the season.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Rudy, good luck. I'll let you go. I really appreciate your being with us. All right. Take care.

Caller:
Thank you very much.

Laura Knoy:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, Phil Suter, I don't even know what to say. It's heartbreaking to hear about all the uncertainty. And yet I'm also hearing you have some resilience in the voices of callers like Rudy and Laurie and boy, Kristin. She was saying, I'm going to come out of this better than ever before. What do you make of that, Phil?

Phil Suter:
It's it's what makes us who we are here in New Hampshire. I'm I'm encouraged by that, too. And while there's a lot of anxiety and and potentially bad news for people and we need to support them and and embrace them as best we can. There is a kind of connectedness in our state that's pretty special. And you know, here in Keene, we've partnered with Mayor George Hansel in the city to do a weekly, you know, WebEx/Zoom kind of meeting with the business community. And we're staying connected that way and people are figuring out how to stay connected. And that's going to be as important as anything else in the weeks and months ahead to to lean on each other, to reach out for help, to offer help and and find places that need help. There are some employers who are looking for employees now, as counterintuitive as that may sound.

Laura Knoy:
What kind of business kinds of businesses, Phil, are looking for employees now? Like, delivery businesses or grocery stores, or who's looking for workers?

Phil Suter:
Well, I think that that's some of it. Remember, we were in a in a place of very, very low unemployment. So some of the businesses that were looking for employees a month ago were still looking for them. Manufacturers in many cases are looking for employees. I know Smiths Medical here and our part of the state is looking for people. And River Mead is a retirement community in Peterborough that is always looking for good people. So there are some opportunities out there for people who may be either inclined to make a change or in need of making a change. And if you want to know where some of those places might be or how to get in touch with them, you know, give us a call or give your local chamber a call and we'll we'll try to connect you.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Phil, good to talk to you and hope to talk to you soon, hopefully with better times in front of us. Thank you very much.

Phil Suter:
Thank you, Laura.

Laura Knoy:
That's Phil Suter, president and CEO of the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce. And we want to acknowledge our conversation with Jennifer Wheeler. We lost her line. She's president of the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce. Well, coming up, more on the economic effects of the Coronavirus. We'll talk to the deputy commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security about new initiatives to help the newly unemployed. That's coming up at 10:00. So stay with us.