North Country tourist attractions seek off-season COVID-19 relief
By John Koziol
October 28, 2020
NORTH WOODSTOCK — Grateful for federal paycheck protection loans that helped them through the 2020 tourism season, representatives of The Cog Railway, Santa’s Village and the Hobo Railroad said Wednesday they nonetheless are in critical need of more aid from Washington.
The three seasonal businesses tried to make the best of the past summer, after belatedly opening at 25% capacity, which later was increased to 35%.
The Hobo Railroad, said owner Ben Clark, “is going to need some help” in the near future.
“It’s a long time to spring,” he said. In the meantime, the Hobo, like other attractions, will have to contend with several consecutive non-revenue months.
Clark, Wayne Presby, president and owner of the Cog, and Christian Gainer, whose family owns Santa’s Village, made their concerns known to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen at the White Mountains Visitor Center on Wednesday.
Shaheen is running for reelection against Republican Corky Messner. Like Messner, Shaheen has made campaign stops throughout the North Country in recent weeks. She frequently has cited the need for more federal relief through a second COVID-19 stimulus package.
Asked what Santa’s Village will need to get through to next season, Gainer replied what every business needs — a cushion of money.
Santa’s Village spokesman Jim Miller said that as good as the Paycheck Protection Program money was during the summer, it “has to be that good in the off-season.”
Clark said he and the other attractions owners “understand risk, we understand rewards, but I never saw this coming.”
Like Gainer, he predicted “a slow sort of rebuild to where we were” before the pandemic.
Charyl Reardon, president of White Mountain Attractions, the tourism industry group of which The Cog, Santa’s Village and Hobo Railroad are members, said PPP money helped businesses retain employees.
Shaheen said she recognized the importance of tourism to the state economy, especially job creation by small businesses.
“If you all go under, where are those jobs going to come from?” she asked.
Mike Biundo, Messner’s senior campaign adviser, said in an e-mail that “New Hampshire’s tourism industry has been hard hit by the COVID pandemic, yet career politician Senator Shaheen continues to play party politics, rejecting any and all COVID aid packages because they don’t include the progressive pork and pet projects favored by the Democrat leadership.”