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Joyce Endee

Local businesses thrive despite a slow winter

March 17, 2010
With a mild winter season, a lot of local resorts and inns have had more than enough time on their hands to prep for warmer, busier months, which they hope will compensate for any minor loss in sales.

When the rain started to come down and the snow and ice began to melt, it seemed that some hospitality services flourished more than others as the unpredictable weather cut the season short.

Denise McGuire, general manager of Misty Harbor in Gilford, said they often put together packages during the winter months and promote them online as a means to bring in business during the colder months.

Although some months were slower than others, McGuire said that all in all, the season went well.

"January was a great month. February was a little down because of the (lack of) snow, even for February vacation," said McGuire. "We missed out on a lot of snowmobiling, but March is looking good."

McGuire said people are currently booking reservations for June, July, and August, since Misty Harbor is located next to Meadowbrook.

"This is definitely a slower time. Summer is really busy. We have a lot of returning guests. We do some marketing, promoting, and people hear about us from word of mouth," said McGuire.

Although snowmobiling seems to be out of question for the remainder of the winter season, she said that a lot of skiers are still heading up to Gunstock, since they can produce their own snow. The evenings are still cool, said McGuire, and local skiing races at Gunstock have left a few weekends at Misty Harbor almost completely booked. She said that thanks to surrounding businesses, her own line of business can thrive in such weather conditions.

Donna Weiland, owner of Tuckernuck Inn near downtown Meredith, said she has seen some ups and downs this year with the weather, with the clientele she'd expected replaced with those making unexpected trips to the area.

Weiland said she is not close enough to the mountains to catch bouts of skiing business, but she did have some snowmobilers who had reserved rooms for February. When the rain washed away the remains of the snow, those snowmobilers cancelled, but the odd turn of weather compensated for this loss in the end.

"I got a bunch of impromptu ice boaters down at Ellacoya, from Florida, Connecticut, and more, which was sort of a bonus because of the rain," said Weiland.

She explained that the rare conditions on the ice, with no snow, made it possible for ice boaters to come out on the lake.

"Ice boating conditions were prime. They haven't been this good for 25 years, so it evened out," said Weiland.

She said she used to have a lot of ice fishers come and stay at inn, since it opened 13 years ago, but visitors seem to dwindle for the derby every year.

Weiland said this period of time before the warmer months is considered to be her "time off," when she has the luxury of visiting friends and going on vacations of her own. She said the slower months do not bother her, because she is fortunate enough to have another source of income, thanks to her husband's job.

"This is not my only source of economy. It is more different for those relying on inns," said Weiland. "By having time off, I get a fresh start to the season. I get to rest, and I am full of rigor and revitalize myself. I use my time well, even though I am not making money."

Weiland said she does not put together packages like many inns do during the slower months and avoids taking business away from those who need it most during these more difficult months for businesses dependent on elements such as weather and recreation.

Weiland also does some spring cleaning in preparation for the summer; she re-paints, and goes over inventory, inn needs, and more. As for summer business, she said reservations are already coming in and looking promising, with certain weekends filled up that were never filled up during prior summers.

General Manager Gail Batstone of the Inn at Mill Falls in Meredith said alternative winter events have helped compensate for the lack of snow.

"It is just wonderful to see so many winter events. January was extremely strong; this was one of the best Januarys on record for us. The Inn hosted 14 weddings, which kept us very busy," said Batstone. "February was strong with the Pond Hockey tournament, and the fishing derby."

Batstone said reservations are still coming in, and that 2011 appears to be a strong year as well, since a lot of corporate groups have already started to make reservations.

She said that the inn is currently looking at staffing needs for the busier months, months they refer to as "the spirited season." Batstone said they usually offer staff positions to international students, but this year they will offer positions to local candidates who have lost their jobs as a result of the economy.

She said that the rest of the year is filled with last-minute reservation slots, which point to a fully booked summer season.

Although most resorts and inns have managed to do fairly well during the milder weather and the calm before the summer season, some inn owners and managers have not been as fortunate.

Bob Ruggiero, owner of the Inn at Smith Cove in Gilford, said he does not blame the weather for a slow season, but the economy.

"This is not shaping up to be a great summer. We usually have everything booked up for the summer months, for the Fourth of July and Bike Week," said Ruggiero, who has not found this to be the case so far.

He said he is hoping more people will call, and that they are possibly waiting until later in the year to book their reservations, but added he would not "bet the farm on it."

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