January 06, 2021FRANCONIA — Two weeks after drafting a letter that asked restaurants to stop all dine-in services voluntarily, the Franconia Select Board opted not to move forward with their request.
"We were watching the data and in contact with our health officer, and the data did not look good for our county or our town. At that time, we decided to draft a letter to local eating establishments encouraging them to go to curbside while the community spread level seemed rather high for our county," stated Board Chair Jill Brewer.
In mid-December, Grafton Country was considered a "red zone" with an average of 25 positive cases for every 100,000 people. By the Dec. 28 board meeting, the numbers had diminished enough for the three-person board to change their minds.
Brewer noted that the draft letter was not a mandate but a request. She said she was comfortable holding off on the request for now but would continue to monitor the transmission rate.
In the interim between the two meetings, several Franconia residents voiced outrage on social media outlets about what was perceived to be a forced closure for the local businesses.
Brewer reminded meeting attendees that the rumors of such a mandate were untrue, stating, "The letter was very clearly a suggestion to consider this [option] and laid out the data."
Fellow board member Eric Meth added, "It's a balance between maintaining the safety of our community and also supporting our business establishments. I want to remind people that we still have a mask ordinance, and I am sure the local restaurants are doing their part to maintain our health and safety."
Plain Kate's Riverside Saloon and All Ways Inn owner Cornelia Lorentzen asked board members to notify restaurant owners directly if suggested shutdowns were to be revisited in the future.
"There was a fair freak out here," she stated.
Franconia resident Jade Monahan noted that the omission of the word "consider" from the Dec. 14 meeting minutes was significant.
She said, "It read as if there was going to be a letter from the Select Board telling the businesses to close and not telling them to consider it."
"It's a bit condescending to assume that these hardworking business owners need a safety reminder. If you've been into any of these restaurants, it is abundantly clear that they're following every possible precaution," she added.
Monahan also noted the mental health fallout from COVID and stated that many single people with no social circles were frequenting the local establishments.
She said, "Be mindful when you're considering closure suggestions. It may be the only avenue for some of our older residents to get face-to-face time with folks in the community where they feel welcomed and safe."
Cannon Mountain General Manager John Devivo said the ski area faced a 53 percent revenue decrease this year, despite a 24% funding cut to offset capacity reductions.
He said, "People are following the rules very well, so much so that they aren't coming indoors and we need them to do so."
Devivo continued, "Our viability as a business and as an employer relies heavily on our ability to allow unlimited numbers of people to come indoors and spend. I don't see our opinion changing so long as we are a viable business following the rules and doing so very well. If this is going to be a voluntary thing, then I can't offer compliance on behalf of Cannon or Franconia Notch State Park."