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Bottom Line: Hanover Co-op, Listen pump brakes on car repair costs for low-income drivers

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 9/28/2019 10:11:12 PM
Modified: 9/28/2019 10:11:10 PM

People in low income brackets struggling to make ends meet know how difficult it can be to get socked for an unexpected bill for car repairs. Even a seemingly routine expense such as an oil change or tire rotation can represent a jarring financial setback.

A new program launched by the Hanover Co-op and Listen Community Services seeks to provide relief for low-income car owners. It’s the kind of idea that other businesses and nonprofits should seriously consider partnering on.

Given the catchy name Co-op Car Connections, the program provides vouchers for minor car repairs distributed through Listen that can be redeemed at one of the Co-op’s two auto service centers in Hanover or Norwich.

“We always wanted to find a way to give back to the community, but our service stations never really had the opportunity to before,” said Jimmy Kidder, manager of the Co-op’s service stations, whose team came up with a way to apply their skills at repairing cars with helping low-income wage earners on routine maintenance issues.

The Co-op doesn’t have the staff to administer the voucher program, so it turned to a natural ally who does: Listen Community Services, which already runs programs to help out with heating and housing assistance. With $6,000 in “initial funding” provided by the Co-op, Listen will administer the vouchers to recipients who qualify, who then exchange them for maintenance and repair costs at one of the Co-op’s auto service centers.

“Listen has been getting calls related to auto repairs for a long time but hadn’t the resources available for that,” said Angy Zhang, who oversees the financial aid programs at the nonprofit. When talking with clients about housing or heating assistance, she related, “someone might ask, ‘hey, this is a long shot, but is there anything to help with my car?’ ... A car repair can be a big barrier to people for getting other things done.”

Kidder said that, since the Co-op and Listen began “piloting” the program in March, they have serviced about eight vehicles with vouchers averaging between $50 to $100 each. “I’ve done everything from brakes to tires to windshield wipers and inspections,” he said.

It’s admittedly a modest, small start and not likely to cover, say, a new transmission or brake drums, but Kidder said he thinks that if other auto service shops in the Upper Valley get on board, the results for those in need could be profound.

“We’d like to grow this so more people get access,” he said. “It could make a difference.”

Outdoor furniture sellers move out of storefront

Thirty-five years ago newlyweds Judy and Ron Sleeper were adding a deck onto their Quechee home when they ran into a problem: They couldn’t find a place in the Upper Valley to buy quality outdoor furniture.

“We went all over the place,” Ron Sleeper recalled recently. “That’s when we thought we ought to be in this business.”

The Sleepers opened the outdoor furniture store All Decked Out on Route 4 in Quechee in 1984 and soon established themselves as the destination for the top brands in teak, wrought iron, aluminum and wicker patio and outdoor furniture. Although their primary market has been the second- and vacation-home market in the Upper Valley, their expertise also has been put into the service of consulting and providing the outdoor furniture needs of hotels, inns and resorts across New England.

“As far north as Bar Harbor and south as Provincetown,” Ron Sleeper said.

Now, after more than three decades in business, the Sleepers will be closing their store in November. They will continue to operate their contract business for commercial clients, Judy Sleeper explained, but they don’t need a store or warehouse for that since manufacturers ship directly from the factory.

So they’ll run the business out of their home, she said.

“Or my boat,” Ron Sleeper added.

The Sleepers said they are grateful for how their customers supported them, even in an era when shopping has shifted online.

“We’ve really made a lot of good friends,” Judy Sleeper said, noting she and her husband have “mixed feelings about leaving” the Quechee store behind them. “It’s been our baby.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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