What the latest COVID wave means for local NH businesses

At the Carter Community Building Association in Lebanon, members who want to exercise can choose anything from swimming, cycling to weight lifting.

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Membership still has not reached pre-pandemic levels. But executive director Kerry Artman says that even with the recent increase in COVID cases in New Hampshire, the business has improved since 2020. The weather is getting colder and new members are joining, she says.

As the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on the state’s economy, worsen the childcare crisis, labor shortage and supply chain issues, many local businesses say they still experience high demand for their services from Granite Staters. Yet not all New Hampshire businesses are so immune.

The state’s winter COVID-19 outbreak has led to record hospitalizations, overloading the understaffed state health system. But Artman says many members of the center are tired of having their lives controlled by COVID. The recreation center’s decision to require vaccination of staff and members in November has helped people feel safe while training.

“We attracted more people than we lost by making this choice,” she said.

Nearby, Jessica Giordani, co-owner of Scratch Supply Company, prepares for another busy day. Her store sells yarn and she says knitting season has arrived. But her customers don’t always visit the store in person.

“We are very busy online,” says Giordani. “It’s great for the local community and it’s great for the people who can’t physically come and see us because they don’t live here.

But offering online orders or curbside pickup isn’t always possible, especially for those in the “high-consumption” economy, like the beauty industry.

Some companies in the sector have directly felt the impact of this surge, such as Lilo Almonte, who heads La Fama hair salon in Nashua.

Since COVID cases “started to accelerate, business has slowed down,” he explained.

Almonte’s decline in business reflects a broader trend, according to Saba Waheed, research director at UCLA’s Labor Center. For high touch businesses, their profits depend on individual risk assessments by customers.

“It’s all about ‘consumer confidence’ and how much risk consumers are willing to take for something like a pedicure,” Waheed explained, noting that these types of services are not as essential as going to the grocery store.

There are similar challenges for workers in the beauty industry. Manicurists, hairdressers, massage therapists and more cannot work remotely during COVID spikes. If workers get sick, they could lose days of wages stranded at home in quarantine.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that in the service sector of the economy, 4 in 10 workers do not have paid sick leave. Rates drop considerably more for low-wage workers. In New Hampshire, the average salary of beauty salon employees range from $ 525 to $ 750 per week, depending on the department. Wage averages were even lower for nail salon workers, at $ 450-600 per week.

A lack of protections such as indoor mask requirements, access to high-quality PPE and widespread vaccination can add to that risk, Waheed says.

New Hampshire has not implemented a statewide mask mandate since April, leaving the decision to business owners. Not all nail and hair salons that the NHPR spoke about have their own mandate. Immunization rates have also stagnated in the state, at less than 70% of the total population, according to CDC data.

Nicola Scott runs Nikki’s Hair Braiding in Londonderry. In all capitals on her website, she specifies that she needs masks. Since reopening in 2020, she says business is stable.

“I’m just a one-woman show, I work on my own,” she says, which minimizes the exposure.

She says that customer demand is high because there is no lots of braiders in New Hampshire.

“I’m always busy,” she says.

She has clients who come from all over New England to have their hair braided. Even though winter tends to be her slowest season, she says she books weeks in advance.

And as winter drags on and the most contagious variant of COVID-19, omicron spreads further in the state, epidemiologist Benjamin Chan said Thursday he expects to see ” further increases in the already high level of COVID 19 that we are currently seeing “.

And what that will mean for the day-to-day decisions the Granite Staters make, like getting a haircut or joining a gym, is something businesses can only try to predict.

“I think with this new variation we are all preparing for what could happen,” said Kerry Artman.

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