CONWAY — Despite the rain on New Year’s Eve and into New Year’s Day and ongoing staff shortages, the new year capped what was a busy Christmas vacation week, according to local business operators interviewed.
“People were definitely here — we were very busy all week, with some lines,” said Kelly Rogers, manager on duty at Zeb’s General Store, located on North Conway Village’s Main Street.
Lines were common at many local dining establishments.
“It was a great week. Several of our members reported record day numbers during Christmas Week, and they were out straight busy,” said Wally Campbell, executive director of the Valley Originals, the 25 locally owned independent restaurants based in Mount Washington Valley.
Due to the valley’s labor shortage, he said many restaurants did not operate the full seven days unlike in past vacation weeks but still saw great demand.
“Staffing remains the No. 1 issue — along with the pandemic, of course,” said Campbell, a veteran of the local restaurant scene who once owned and operated Fandangle’s, the restaurant that stood at the site of Home2Suites by Hilton hotel on Route 16.
His assessment was backed up by Terry O’Brien, general manager/co-owner of the Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub in Glen.
She said the popular local establishment had a “great Christmas week,” but noted it had to close on New Year’s Day due to two kitchen staffers testing positive for COVID. Her staff all has been tested and the restaurant and bar reopened on Sunday night for dinner and the latest in the establishment’s ongoing “Blue Sunday” series, which continues this coming Sunday as well.
“We would have been so busy Saturday night based on the numbers we had been seeing all week but I knew that we would have been short-staffed (with the two cooks testing positive) and would not have been able to do a good job, up to our standards, so we closed that night,” said O’Brien.
She said staff is required to wear a mask but patrons are only requested to wear one when they enter the building and are not required to wear a mask when at their tables.
“Most people came in wearing masks, especially families,” she said. “We’re all pretty tired dealing with COVID — but it’s what we all have got to do.”
A call placed to Black Mountain was not returned as of press time but a voicemail message at the Jackson ski area said Black closed Monday through Friday and planned to reopen Jan. 8. A call placed to Bretton Woods Marketing and Sales Director Craig Clemmer of Omni Mount Washington Resort also was not returned as of Tuesday afternoon but when interviewed last week he said business was picking up as the days went by from Christmas on Dec. 25 and that it was looking to have been a strong week.
Thomas Prindle, marketing director for King Pine Ski Area in East Madison, said it was a “decent week.”
“It was up over last year with some very busy days midweek and selling out of tubing tickets and rental equipment for some of those. It was unfortunate that that pace could not have lasted right through New Year’s weekend and I would say the weather of wintry mix and rain we saw this past Saturday and Sunday definitely kept numbers down from what we had seen during the peak of the holiday week,” said Prindle.
Becca Deschenes, marketing director at Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway, said it was a good week, despite the downturn that came with Saturday and Sunday’s rain.
Cranmore presented a fireworks show on New Year’s Eve at 6:30 p.m., prior to the town of Conway’s New Year’s Eve fireworks held in Schouler Park at 9:30 p.m.
“Overall we had a decent week,” said Deschenes. “As with a typical vacation period, business levels increased as the week went on. We had some aggressive snowmaking weather and some natural snow going into the week that allowed us to open more terrain. We had 21 of our 57 trails and glades open, which having our primary trails open, allowed us to spread skier traffic out. We had 10 lanes of tubing, which sold out in advance each day. We also found our lessons, group and privates, sold out most days of the break. “
She said Cranmore brought back many events this season including Cranapalooza and apres music in Zip’s which was held daily over the vacation period.
“New Year’s Eve was one of the biggest days of the week, and the early fireworks show was strongly attended. Things did slow down a bit New Year’s Day and Jan. 2, which I believe was 100 percent related to the wet weather,” said Dechenes.
She said most guests seemed to embrace the concept of masking up as a COVID precaution.
The staffing shortages that are common throughout the valley forced Cranmore to modify operations and shift resources around.
Ski touring centers saw strong weeks, according to spokespeople for Jackson Ski Touring, Bear Notch Ski Touring and Snowshoe Center and Great Glen Trails.
“We did a lot of lessons for first-timers, so that was good to see. It was a really strong week for us with good skiing,” said Ellen Chandler, executive director of the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation.
Added Nate Harvey of Great Glen Trails, “We saw a lot of new skiers taking lessons which shows to us that the demographics have changed somewhat from 10 years ago and that people from the city have discovered the fun of getting outdoors,” said Harvey.
He said the weekend’s rain and fog had an impact on snow cover and that GGT was using its snowmaking to re-coat the tubing hill this week. He said the planned start of the weekly Nordic Meisters cross-country race series was pushed back a week to Jan. 11 due to snow cover issues.
Bear Notch on Friday was a busy place, with skiers and snowshoers touring along the Saco River trails and in the Bartlett Experimental Forest.
Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, said she believes it was a good strong week despite the lack of natural snow, with visitors finding plenty of things to do.
She applauded local businesses for their resolve in dealing with the challenges of the pandemic and short staffing.
“Overall, I would rate the week as good despite the fact we did not have great weather leading up to the week,” said Crawford.
John Eastman, director of Conway Parks and Recreation, said the New Year’s Eve fireworks went off smoothly, despite there being a low cloud cover from the evening’s mix of fog and drizzle.
He estimated that there were 300 to 400 people in Schouler Park, and said there were no empty parking spaces around the park.
Zeb’s General Store donated $3,000 to the effort, which was presented by Atlas Fireworks of Jaffrey and sponsored by Community Celebrations and the town of Conway.
“Conway Police did a great job in dispersing the traffic afterward — they had everyone head south after leaving Schouler Park and then if they needed to go north to cross over to the North-South Road. Traffic was gone in 10 minutes after the show,” said Eastman.
Lt. Suzanne Kelley-Scott of the Conway Police said there were no significant issues related to the celebration.
“It was all pretty smooth,” she said.