Woodstock businesses hoping to bounce back

 By Robert Shumskis, Standard Correspondent

Water main breaks and ensuing water use restrictions have caused a variety of challenges for Woodstock Village’s businesses, with many facing a loss of sales and some needing to close their doors indefinitely. Hoping for a rebound, proprietors are now assessing the financial damage while encouraging consumers to return and support the recovery.

“Physically, the central Woodstock business district was spared significant damage. However, the 11-day loss of potable water, supplied by the Woodstock Aqueduct Company, meant lodging, food services, and several other businesses were closed during that period,” says Jeffrey Kahn, a Village Trustee and one of the town’s most tenured shop owners at Unicorn. “Those conditions seriously impacted tourist visitation during what is normally high business season. Businesses, such as mine, that remained open throughout the 11-day period experienced daily economic decline of 25% to 50% compared to historic averages.”

Kahn continued, “Following the reopening of food and lodging services, serious economic decline has continued to persist. Due [in part] to media — photos, video and stories of devastating flooding being shown across the nation and throughout the world — cancellation of lodging reservations in Woodstock have extended into October. The Woodstock Economic Development Commission (EDC) Marketing Group has proactively ramped up the message that Woodstock remains open, intact, stunningly beautiful, and a lovely destination. Hopefully, that effort will diminish what will likely be a continuing, though invisible to the general public, economic impact to the Woodstock business community.

“Thankfully, volunteer efforts, including FEMA, the SBA, the State of Vermont, the organizations represented by the HUB, and the Woodstock EDC have all come forward to aid those individuals and businesses hit the hardest,” Kahn says. However, he adds, “Unlike the pandemic, when the federal government provided grant relief for economic losses, no such grants are being offered to businesses that have suffered economic, but not physical, consequences from the flood.

“At Unicorn, we are thankful for local shoppers who are aware of the ‘invisible’ consequences of the flood and are making an effort to shop locally,” Kahn says.  “Woodstock, like most Vermont communities, is resilient and we will recover from the impact of the flood. That recovery is largely due to the remarkable spirit of volunteerism and financial support within our community.” He added a word of caution as the village and residents plan how to move forward. “July’s rains have dented Vermont’s reputation as a state largely immune to climate change. The economic consequences of climate change are not going to disappear and we all need to support efforts to mitigate that change.”

Restaurants were among the most severely impacted businesses. “The Worthy Kitchen shut down for almost two weeks while the ‘do not consume’ notice was in effect,” explains Jason Merrill, Chief Operating Officer of the Worthy Group. “Tess [Malloy] (a customer relations representative for the Woodstock aqueduct) was very upfront with updates and answered all my daily questions. We were able to pivot and hold off on orders coming into the restaurant, so we had some loss. Business is not back to full capacity, but I feel that’s due to less tourists coming into town. Overall, we are happy to be back open and ready to serve Woodstock,” Merrill concluded.

At Brenda Blakeman’s salon, the team quickly made adjustments in order to stay open. On the first day of restrictions, they did only haircuts, which do not require using water. The next day, one of her employees brought in water from home by using large jugs that Blakeman keeps for emergencies, then it was boiled using a stove in the shop. “We kept our services to a minimum and we were very cautious about how we used the water,” Blakeman says. “We also collected rainwater outside for flushing toilets and things like that.

“Obviously, we were down a bit for the week, but not terribly,” she says.  “We were down only 10 or 20 percent, maybe.  Believe it or not, it didn’t affect us that much. We put color on peoples’ hair, then they would go home and wash it out at their house. If somebody wanted a haircut and they wanted it shampooed, we asked them to do it before they came in. As the water started to come back, we would do pedicures with three inches of water as opposed to 12.”

Blakeman adds, “Our customers were very understanding.” She says that versatility was also key. “We just figured out different ways to do things and we made it work.” Through it all, she notes, “We never shut down. We’re doing fine now. I would say we’re back to normal.”

Other businesses that do not rely on water to function were only tangentially affected, such as the Clover Gift Shop and Sunday Drive, both of which are owned by Patricia Eames. “Fortunately, the impact on my businesses was minimal. We were closed for a day and a half and definitely saw a decrease in business for the two weeks following the flood,” she states. “However, what we endured pales in comparison to other businesses who lost so much, including the local restaurants, and especially the Woodstock Farmers Market and the White Cottage.”

The small bakery owned by Eduardo and Ligia Banks was in an especially perilous position over the past few weeks, since it was launched just last November. Ligia is the baker while Eduardo runs the storefront. “We at Splendid Bakes did not have any property damage, fortunately. Like all the food businesses in town, we had to close the store for a few days,” says Eduardo Banks. “As a new small business in town, we faced this uncertain time, afraid of what could happen if the water wasn’t coming back soon or the consequences of how the water’s quality would come back after the flooding. Then the biggest challenge was popping up. Will people come back to town soon? How long will that take?” he speculated.

“It seems like we are slowly starting to get some folks back in town, however, it’s still not like the crowd that we had before the flooding,” Eduardo Banks observes. “The most important thing is that we won’t give up! We will overcome more strongly than before because our community has been showing great support to all who got into some kind of trouble at this time  Our community is unique! Thank you, Woodstock.”