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Bottom Line: COVID-19 may weaken big retail chains’ dominance on Route 12A

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

Valley News Business News
Published: 5/23/2020 9:03:48 PM
Modified: 5/23/2020 9:03:46 PM

The economy may be in a recession, if not a depression, for a long time to come because of COVID-19. But it’s not too soon to see how the pandemic is going to reshape the Upper Valley’s familiar retail landscape and people’s shopping habits for the indefinite future.

Bankruptcies among retail giants are already being felt along the Route 12A shopping corridor in West Lebanon. Furniture and home decor chain Pier 1 Imports, which has a location in the Staples plaza and filed for bankruptcy in February, said last week it would seek an “orderly wind-down” of all 540 stores with a liquidation sale once stores can reopen.

J.C. Penney, one of the anchor tenants in Upper Valley Plaza, also filed for bankruptcy last week and at the same time said it was reopening 153 stores in 26 states that had been temporarily closed, although the West Lebanon store was not on the list released by the company (nor was any J.C. Penney store in New England or New York). J.C. Penney said it would identify in the coming weeks 242 stores that it would close as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.

Also unknown is the fate of the Kmart store in West Lebanon, which was spared from closing in the company’s November announcement that 96 Kmart and sister stores would be shuttered by February. A list compiled by USA Today in February before the shutdown of non-essential businesses identified dozens more Kmart stores that were holding liquidation sales and slated to close in April and May, although the West Lebanon store — the last one in New Hampshire, Vermont or Maine — is not on the list.

For the time being, however, Kmart stores as “essential businesses” have been open during the pandemic, and the West Lebanon store is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday, according to a sign on its door.

Otherwise, retail stores appear to be adjusting to the “new normal” of operating under controlled conditions while spread of the COVID-19 virus remains a threat.

Kohl’s department store in Upper Valley Plaza is open with limited hours 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the first hour set aside for seniors over 60, women who are pregnant and people with underlying health conditions. Olympia Sports is allowing customers in the store, but only at 50% capacity and only for card transactions — “no cash,” according to a notice on its door.

Kay Jewelers has been closed since March — several UPS stickers for missed deliveries remain posted on the door — and all the jewelry cases are empty and a sign says “temporarily closed until further notice.” The Kay’s website lists four stores in New Hampshire that are open with “in-store safety measures in place” but there is no information regarding the West Lebanon location. Kay’s did not respond to a request for comment.

On the good news front ... the Fore-U ice cream stand in the Home Depot parking lot plans to open for the season on June 8 (the golf center/driving range will open May 28). The popular ice cream destination was planning to open April 3 but has been delayed because ice cream stands, in a great miscarriage of justice, apparently are not deemed to be essential businesses.

In further good ice cream news, Dairy Twirl on Mechanic Streetopened on Friday, although it’s safe to say it won’t be the favorite photo op for campaigning politicians this summer as it has adopted strict protocols for customers.

Tavern on the blacktop

Murphy’s on the Green tavern in Hanover will open Tuesday, reports owner Nigel Leeming, and will introduce seating for 48 patrons outdoors under the accommodation with the town to permit outdoor seating in parking spaces along South Main Street.

Leeming is calling his outdoor area “Murphy’s Street Food” and thinks streetside al fresco dining may hold the key in helping small town economies recover post-pandemic.

“This is the type of innovation that makes a town leap forward,” Leeming said of converting parking spaces into dining areas.

Contact John Lippman at

Valley News

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