Businesses feel strain, adapt to Covid-19

By Cynthia Prairie
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Throughout our Southern Vermont communities, many retail and tourist-dependent businesses began planning several weeks ago for the annual mudseason slowdown. At that time, word was just beginning to spread about the coronavirus that was wreaking havoc in China, and just barely touching Italy .

Now that Covid-19 is a worldwide pandemic, shutting down schools, severely limiting air travel, upsetting financial markets and forcing millions of Americans to self- quarantine, more local businesses and charitable organizations are adjusting their habits and schedules to deal with the changes.

The changes go deeper than than just pump bottles of hand sanitizer at checkouts for customers and clerks and “air greetings” from 6 feet away substitute for handshakes and hugs.

Inns re-evaluate, cancel and hunker down

Bret Rugg of The Fullerton Inn on the Green in Chester said Monday night, “We have canceled every single reservation of what was going to be one of our largest Marches” in bookings, including several sizeable groups.

Snowden Chalet innkeepers Dom Boutin, left, and Jen Greenfield with their dog Killian.

The historic inn has 20 guest rooms, a large formal dining room and a cozy tavern restaurant and bar with stone fireplace. “We just cleared the books,” he said, adding that he and his wife Nancy are considering “doing our normal spring cleaning now.”

In the meantime, however, Fullerton will begin offering carryout meals from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, beginning Wednesday, March 18. For a directory of  restaurants offering to-go meals, click here.

To the west, at the Snowdon Chalet in Londonderry, Dominque Boutin and Jen Greenfield, owners of the 12-room motel, have been preparing for Covid-19 for several weeks. Boutin, who had been supervisor of housekeeping at Maine Medical Center in Portland, has adapted the hospital cleaning techniques to the hotel, including disinfecting the “most commonly touched areas.”

Boutin and Greenfield told The Telegraph on Thursday, they were hoping to put hand sanitizer in each guest room, but for weeks now they have been unable to buy any: not from their hotel supply companies and distributors and not from Amazon, Walmart and other retailers.

The virus “is not a thing to take lightly,” Boutin said, adding that he and Greenfield will close the inn for a couple of weeks because now is a traditionally slow time for visitors. The inn’s location on Route 11 near Magic Mountain means they attract visitors who ski at Magic, Stratton, Mt. Snow, Bromley and Okemo.

Thankfully, there aren’t so many visitors here. We intend to limit exposure for us and our guests.’

Dom Boutin and Jen Greenfield
Snowdon Chalet, Londonderry

“Thankfully,” said Boutin “there aren’t so many visitors here.”  Down times for many of the area lodges are now and in late fall.

To cope with the virus, Greenfield said they intend to “limit exposure for us and our guests.” That includes a change in their limited continental breakfast offerings, which used to include sliced bread in a bag for guests to grab. Now, they’re moving to individually wrapped food items and single-use coffee cups.

As for the future, they — like other area businesses that rely on tourism — also have other concerns, including the planned springtime repair of Route 11 and more troubling, the economy, which seems to be on the verge of a downturn caused in part by Covid-19 and market insecurity in the management of it.

However, Boutin and Greenfield remain optimistic. While their international guest bookings may not come through, they expect to pick up more American vacationers who have opted for driving over flying for their vacations and weekend getaways.

What’s happened to the theater?

Just last Thursday, “it was full steam ahead” with planned events, said Susanna Gellert, executive artistic director of the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company in downtown Weston. But by Friday, she added, “Everything changed.” The decision was made to close the Walker Farm venue, cancelling the last concert in its winter music series and all community-sponsored events.

Susanna Gellert: Last Thursday, the Weston Playhouse was ‘full steam ahead.’ Chester Telegraph photo

Gellert said, “We’re in a rural environment where hospitals are few and far between with an older population,” so WPTC is “doing what we can to ensure that the staff and the community are safe,” including having staff work remotely.

She hopes to reopen Monday, April 13 in time for Bob Stannard & Those Dangerous Bluesmen on April 18  and the Vermont Symphony’s Jukebox Quartet on April 24. But again, as time draws near, they will evaluate the situation.

“We can look forward to the summer,” when the theater season begins, she said, adding “I’m confident today that things will be under control.” In the meantime, the Playhouse is still hiring for its stage productions and staff is working to put systems in place, to “look at our procedures,” to ensure that it is employing healthy practices in relationship to Covid-19.

One glitch that she experienced, Gellert said, was that while state Rep. Kelly Pajala of Londonderry has been “very helpful” in addressing her questions, she has been “a bit frustrated with the state’s communication on this. The state seems to be relying on businesses to find the information and the solutions themselves. … especially as we head into Vermont’s second tourist season.”

Ensuring safety of Meals on Wheels clients, volunteers

Over at Meals on Wheels in Springfield, where volunteers prepare hot and frozen meals for 85 to 100 clients per week throughout the region, Sue Levine said she has developed safer drop-off procedures to protect both clients and volunteers.

Despite volunteers keeping their social distance from clients, they can still perform two very important tasks: offering human connection and acting as a welfare check.

Hand sanitizer and disposable gloves are in each volunteer’s car. They wear one disposable glove per home to deliver the meal to the table, keeping a proper “social distance,” now defined as 6 feet. Despite the “social distance,” they can still perform two very important tasks for their clients: offering human connection and acting as a welfare check. Before getting into their car to leave, volunteers remove the glove for disposal and use the hand sanitizer before donning a new glove for the next delivery.

“If our older drivers are nervous about entering a home, they can leave the meal at the door,” she said, adding, “but no one has done that.” A couple of volunteers decided to stop temporarily, she said, but new volunteers have stepped into the breach. If the state changes protocols, Levine said, Meals on Wheels will as well. If anyone would like to volunteer, call Meals on Wheels at 885-5879.

The organization has also disbanded for the time being its in-house lunch gatherings , which were held every Tuesday and Thursday.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Janis Hall says:

    Correction: Sue Levine and Springfield Meals & Wheels are not located at Senior Solutions, nor are they part of our organization. (Senior Solutions does provide funding for the meals, which is passed through from the Older Americans Act federal funding.)