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Shoppers wear masks while visiting the stores at Settlers Green over the 4th of July weekend. (SETTLERS GREEN PHOTO)

CONWAY — Heading into the July 4 weekend, many Mount Washington Valley business owners weren’t sure what to expect.

Given the changes in travel since the coronavirus pandemic, many expected the weekend wouldn’t set any sales records, but most reported phones “ringing off the hook” in the days leading up to the holiday, and hopes were high for a busy weekend.

Those businesses responding to an informal survey by the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce almost unanimously reported that the weekend met or exceeded expectations and was the busiest in the valley since the pandemic struck.

Valley businesses have been dedicated to complying with CDC and state-mandated guidelines for reopening. These require fewer people staying, dining and playing at any given time, all while wearing masks and social distancing.

The chamber, too, has been dedicated to providing resources of information, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and other support to the community.

“People who came to enjoy time in the White Mountains this weekend found a community dedicated to safety, social distancing and masks,” said chamber Executive Director Janice Crawford, who has led the charge in creating resources and information for businesses to develop safe places for visitors to enjoy recreation. “If they didn’t know before they got here, they left after the weekend knowing that Mount Washington Valley businesses are devoted creating an ideal place to enjoy the outdoors safely and dependably.”

Jen Kovach, co-owner at the Snowvillage Inn in Eaton, said the inn was not full, but guests stayed longer than over past July 4 holidays and most guests who stayed at the inn dined there, too. She said one visitor stayed four days after not being able to travel to Canada.

Eleanor (Ellie) Koeppel, owner and general manager at The Wentworth in Jackson reported a full house for the weekend.  “What was most rewarding was the kindness, gratefulness and cooperation of my guests,” Koeppel said. “I heard from so many of them how glad they were for us to be open again, how worried they were for all the local businesses in this area during our closure, how much they love The Wentworth and the Mount Washington Valley. I also heard over and over again how much they want to support us, yet at the same time, keep us safe.”

Genn Anzaldi, owner of the J-Town Deli & Country Store in Jackson, described a “packed weekend” and said she expected to exceed last year’s sales.

She said people wore masks and respected social distancing in the store. Most took food to go, but some enjoyed shopping and enjoying the new beer and wine collection at inside or outside seating.

In Glen, Terry O’Brien, owner of the Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub, said the weekend was the busiest since March. Sales were down by 50 percent over last year due in part to the limiting seating to maintain

 social distancing, O’Brien said, adding that food sales were strong — even better than last year — and customers left generous gratuities.

O’Brien said there were a number of larger parties seeking dining (often two families traveling together). Sadly, she said, a number of these parties who made the required reservations didn’t show up, leaving tables empty in the restaurant, which is already operating at reduced capacity.

“This hurts any dining business,” she said, adding, “With having lost 100 seats, we need to use every table that we have to compensate and make sales.”

Golf courses were busy. The New England Women’s Amateur Championship held at the North Conway Country Club concluded right before the weekend, bringing some of the best woman golfers from the region to the valley.  According to Jonathan Rivers, owner of the Indian Mound Golf Course, the weekend was strong with players from throughout New England.

“We are about at 70 percent of the last few years in sales,” Rivers said. “Much better than the 20 percent we were at for May and the first part of June.”

Operating the new mountain bike park, adventure park and scenic chairlift rides, all with limited capacity, Cranmore Mountain Resort reported a strong weekend.

Becca Deschenes, Cranmore’s marketing director, said the resort was down only 4 percent in admissions but up 1 percent in revenue for the weekend compared to 2019. She said guests were generally compliant and respectful of rules for admission, masks and social distancing.

Deschenes said traffic throughout the valley was busier than it’s been in months.

Laura Lemieux, director of marketing and events at Settlers Green and Settlers Crossing, reported a busy weekend, noting that Friday was the busiest day the outlet mall had since their reopening, with license plates from all New England states in the parking lot.

“We had a lot of couples and families taking advantage of the holiday to find great deals around the shopping center. Inventory has been priced to move, and stores are definitely seeing positive results,” Lemieux said. “Many stores were at capacity during peak shopping hours and had lines outside, especially on Friday.”

Beth Scrimger, owner of the Mystery NH Escape Rooms, reported her sales fell short of what she hoped for with numbers well below last year.

“Obviously, several factors were involved ... COVID19 and its resulting restrictions, wonderful weather, holiday on a Saturday, new pricing structure for private rooms only, Mountain Valley Mall Cinema 7 just reopening, etc.” Scrimger said. “I suspect entertainment trends have changed everywhere and will take longer to recover than other industries.”

The chamber heard mixed reports about mask wearing and social distancing. Most businesses said visitors to their restaurants, hotels and attractions were compliant when asked to wear a mask.

But Kovach said, “People came back from North Conway saying that folks are not wearing masks. This is disappointing because the Mount Washington Valley community has educated the locals about the importance of social distancing and masks. We would wish that all visitors could follow that expectation.”

For more information about visiting the valley, go to mtwashingtonvalley.org or visitnh.org.

Marti Mayne is the public relations director for the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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