Hanover Businesses Adapt to Fewer Students During Winter Break
Daniel Roberts, of Nashville, Tenn., works at an empty Baker-Berry Library computer area yesterday. Roberts recently finished his final exams and is staying in Hanover over the winter break before moving on to post-graduate life. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »
Karen Washburn, back left, socializes with friends yesterday during a weekly lunch they’ve enjoyed for the past eight years at the Canoe Club in Hanover. “I love the students,” Washburn said. “I love the energy they bring to the town.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »
Denise MacDonald, right, serves late morning patrons at Lou’s Restaurant in Hanover. With Dartmouth students home for the holidays, long lines and full counters are no longer a part of the daily scene to which many Lou’s servers and patrons have become accustomed. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — Winter break is Becky Schneider’s least favorite time of the year. It’s when Dartmouth College students leave and the well-known Lou’s Restaurant line that stretches from the front of the restaurant to the back of the building is nonexistent.
Every year, Dartmouth students leave for winter break and Hanover becomes a bit sleepy, but with a new academic calendar, students flocked home two weeks early, causing businesses in downtown to adapt to the change.
For residents, the change means shorter, and sometimes no lines at most restaurants, and if you time it right, it’s possible to be the only person walking across the Dartmouth green. But for businesses, the lack of students means fewer customers.
“This break is unprecedented,” Schneider said. “Hanover has never seen this before. I expect by the end of December everyone will by dying for the students to come back.”
Schneider has worked at Lou’s since the 1970s and said winter break is the restaurant’s slowest season. In the summer, the number of students also dramatically decreases, but Schneider said Lou’s business picks up from May through October because of tourists, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and Dartmouth alumni.
But in December, things get quiet.
At 1:30 on a recent weekday afternoon, there were three empty booths at Lou’s and no one was sitting at the counter.
“You’re so used to being so busy that we’re driving each other crazy when there’s no one here,” said waitress Suzanne Laware, who said she and other waitresses treat the students like their substitute babies.
But a sleepy Hanover is not a dead Hanover.
While undergraduates were done with classes by Thanksgiving, there are still about 120 athletes on campus, as well as a number of international students. At Lou’s on Thursday, there were two tables of Dartmouth students, including one seating seven men’s hockey players, most of whom ordered french toast.
Earlier in the morning, Camille Dumais, a Dartmouth senior, bought coffee at Dirt Cowboy Cafe with two fellow hockey players before heading to practice.
“Since there isn’t anybody else around, we don’t have homework and we can hang out as team and bond,” Dumais said. She and her teammates have spent numerous hours since Thanksgiving watching movies at the Nugget theater and bowling in White River Junction.
Since all the campus dining halls are closed except for the one at the Hopkins Center, straggler students have sought out meals at local Hanover restaurants. Track players were eating at Boloco Thursday afternoon, and many of the athletes’ meals have spilled into Everything But Anchovies.
The restaurant is open until 2:10 a.m., and its booths are usually packed from 11 p.m. until closing, said Candice Dodge, a waitress who works the night shift. But that hasn’t been the case since Thanksgiving. However, Dodge said there were 60 members of the swim team at the restaurant Wednesday night, and the hockey team filed in after its game against the University of Vermont.
The restaurant also relies heavily on its late-night deliveries, and manager Amanda Dowd-DeRoy said the business has seen a 50 percent reduction in deliveries since the students left.
But employees knew that students would be leaving for about six weeks this winter, and they tried to plan ahead. The restaurant now offers catering and it’s trying to entice people to sign up for holiday parties. For instance, Everything But Anchovies had plans to feed 130 people at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and another 400 people at the Tuck School of Business.
John Chapin, owner of the Canoe Club, was at Everything But Anchovies Wednesday night and said he found himself a bit jealous of how the restaurant had attracted athletes.
Chapin said the impact to his business has come less from the students themselves and more from the business they bring in. For instance, students often come to the Canoe Club when their parents are in town or if a recruiter is at Dartmouth and wants to get to know a student over a meal.
“The good news is that there is a vibrant local community independent of the college and those people have shown their faces and kept the wolves from the door by being local patrons,” Chapin said.
But the lack of students has allowed him to create some “intelligent coping strategies.” For instance, Chapin has invited business owners on Main Street to his establishment for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres next week.
“I’m kind of creating a marketing opportunity that probably never would have been fully realized if it was a normal December,” Chapin said.
But not everyone has felt the effect of an empty campus. Nigel Leeming, owner of Murphy’s and 3 Guys Basement Barbecue, said his customer base has been stable since students left because many local residents “take back the town.”
“Restaurants try to make their business sound proof,” Leeming said. “The businesses that are neighborhood businesses do fine when the students are not here.”
He paused before adding, “But do we miss the students? Of course we miss them.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.