Twin businesses adapt to tighter economy
June 11, 2009
TWIN MOUNTAIN — Small business owners in the Twin Mountain-Bretton Woods area who depend on attracting locals, visiting condo owners and weekenders as well as tourists passing through, have had to make some adjustments to survive the woes of a shrinking national economy.
Mark Catalano's several enterprises expanded as the local economy did over the last few years, fueled to a great extent by a $50 million investment in the Mount Washington Resort and plans made for millions more for a build-out of a pedestrian village and scores of new townhouses and large second homes over the next decade.
With new construction in Bretton Woods substantially slowed Mr. Catalano has closed down the Main Street Pizzeria in rental space in the Lodge, a two-story Resort-owned motel located across Route 302 East from the entrance to the Mount Washington Hotel. He has moved the business, ovens and all, to the space formerly occupied by Quiznos Sub Shop, in the new log-cabin style restaurant next to the Trading Post of the Living Water Campground, near the intersection of Routes 3 and 302 East.
Like many Quiznos franchisees, Mr. Catalano became disheartened after Quiznos corporate managers decided to compete head-to-head on price with Subway and to do so reduced both the quality and quantity of the product.
In addition to moving Main Street Pizzeria to the newly vacated space, he also opened up a New York City-style Deli that features Boar's Head Brand meats with a guarantee to customers that they can order sandwiches and sides that meet their needs.
He also closed the Irving gas pumps, which will soon be removed. "I was competing with myself," he explained. Mr. Catalano also owns the Irving Bretton Woods station next to Fabyan's Restaurant. Twin has three other gas stations, he noted. Soon the Irving sign that is now shrouded in a blue tarp will be repainted by Ron Costa of Jefferson to tout the Trading Post gift shop and the Main Street Pizzeria and New York-style Deli.
The no-alcohol Living Water Campground appears to be holding even with last summer, in which high gas prices resulted in a 10 percent drop in business. It features 81 campsites, two-thirds of which are on the Ammonoosuc River, two lodge cabins that are equipped with every convenience, two motel units, and two sparely equipped 12-by-12 camping cabins.
"I've consolidated my restaurant operations; we're emphasizing our core competencies," Mr. Catalano said. "On the campground side, we expect to continue to see last-minute reservations — often determined by weather forecasts."
At the same time, he has expanded the high-end grocery offerings at the Irving Bretton Woods station, while still maintaining an extensive selection of sandwiches, Frito-Lay snacks, soft drinks, and newspapers. Condo owners, who perhaps are eating in more often than in the past, are pleased to find 100 percent organic Black Angus beef, an array of cheeses, boneless chicken breasts, vine-grown tomatoes, big Idaho potatoes, upscale wines, and Carr's table wafers.
"The condo owners tell me they are happy not to have to drive to Littleton to shop when they get here, and local residents also enjoy the convenience," Mr. Catalano reported.
"Overall," he said, "I'm cautiously optimistic. My dad (Jack Catalano) and I sat together a year ago in June (2008) and talked about what would happen when the Presidential race was over and our concerns about the housing bubble. No, I'm not claiming we anywhere near predicted the 'perfect storm' of financial calamities that has actually taken place, but we did do some long-view planning, trimmed back and instituted whatever cost controls we could.
"We've not contracted for any foreign students, for example, believing that there will be enough people who need jobs locally to fill our needs. We just hired Jason Tibbets of Whitefield, a sophomore at Mesa State in Grand Junction, Colo., as our groundskeeper.
"We're now looking to hire a breakfast cook who can start work at 6:30 a.m. at the latest to make to-order breakfast sandwiches and the like.
"We're weathering the storm and getting lots of support locally for our efforts."
Franz "Zach" and Rose Szakmary have also made changes to weather the national financial downturn. Although the 14-unit family-owned Seven Dwarfs motel and dining room is technically located in Bethlehem, its sign is on The Strip on Route 3 South in Twin Mountain and travelers assume it is in Twin. The Szakmary family has owned the secluded family-oriented business, located on the Little River, since 1973. Mr. Szakmary's mother, Brigette, who lives in her own home nearby, continues to maintain the flower beds that make the motel's grounds so attractive all summer long.
The motel, which the younger Mrs. Szakmary manages, is open from May to October, but the snack bar-dining room is not only open in the summer and early fall months, but is also open and patronized by snowmobilers in the winter. "We're the first stop on Corridor 11 north of Cannon and Franconia Notch," Mr. Szakmary explained. In the winter they serve cocoa and hot dogs and other warming fare, while in the summer they serve breakfast from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and light suppers — pizza, sandwiches, hamburgers, chili and soups — from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The winter snowmobile traffic has not been as robust as in the past, and motel stays have edged slightly downward, he said. A gravel pit that the family owns on the opposite side of the river, distant from the motel, has been far less active as housing starts have fallen.
Mr. Szakmary concluded that the largest expense that he could control is the family's health insurance coverage, designed for the self-employed. He now works four nights a week at Wal-Mart in Littleton where benefits include both medical and dental insurance.
The couple is looking forward to the 16-day leave that Zachary, their nearly 22-year-old son, will spend at home in July. A 2007 graduate of Profile High School, Zachary is a bosun's mate on the USS Curtis Wilber DDG-54, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer that is permanently deployed from Yokosuka, Japan.
Their daughter Katrina, a member of the Profile Class of 2010, is enrolled in the animal science class at WMRHS, which she enjoys greatly.
"We're in a weather-dependent business here," Mr. Szakmary said. "Unfortunately, many people make their plans using WMUR's forecasts, which are really not designed for Above the Notches. We're hoping for a good season, but it is too soon to tell."
Bill Munroe of Munroe's Place Family Restaurant on Route 3 South has been pleasantly surprised by the steady volume of breakfast- and-lunch business he and his wife Helen have been doing since they reopened their homey restaurant on May 22, the Friday before the three-day Memorial Day weekend.
"We'd been closed for six months, and we did about the same volume of business as we did last year when we'd not been closed," Mr. Munroe said, noting that he had cooked for others in Florida during that time period. "This winter I'm going to try to stay open here in Twin."
Setting profitable hours of operation is one of the key strategic decisions that restaurant owners must make.
Munroe's will move to their summer schedule of also serving dinners, Wednesday through Sunday, starting on Wednesday, July 1.
"The cost of almost everything has fallen, except the price of food, which has been sky-rocketing," Mr. Munroe pointed out. "It's hard to compete with the chains that can negotiate lower prices."
Still, he said, it's been a good business, and they expanded their kitchen two years ago.
"This is our 19th year here and we've raised seven kids," he said. Their youngest, David, will enter St. Petersburg College on an early entry program, instead of attending his senior year as a member of the Class of 2010 at Dunedin High School, outside of Clearwater, Fla.
Only one of his adult children, stepson Walter Stone who runs a masonry business, lives in Twin Mountain. Three of the Munroes' children live within 10 minutes of their Florida residence and another two live in North Carolina.
The lunch waitress on duty on Thursday was Helen's sister, Hope Andrews of Littleton, and the cook was Twin Mountain resident Chris Fitts, who featured a delicious $5.95 daily special of chili with melted cheese in a fresh bread bowl.
Lancaster native Christine Pilotte, a 1997 WMRHS graduate who lives in Jefferson and has begun her fourth year of being a waitress at Munro's, was dining in on her day off with Chase, her almost seven-month-old son.
"We really are a family place," Mr. Munroe explained. "That's what we are."