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Upper Valley hotels’ services were turned down even before Scott’s restrictions

  • Richard Cushman smokes his pipe outside his room at the Super 8 motel in White River Junction, Vt., where he moved recently after living in his van, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Gov. Phil Scott ordered hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in the state to close on Monday unless they're serving essential workers. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Super 8 manager Travis Parent pulls on a fresh glove over a freshly sanitized hand while working in the office at the White River Junction, Vt., motel Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Parent said he only had four vacancies and was otherwise full with essential workers and the homeless from the Upper Valley Haven. “It’s a good time to be grateful with everything that’s going on,” he said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Head Housekeeper Lori Cochran collects trash Tuesday, March 31, 2020, from guest Richard Johnson, left, who has been staying at the Super 8 motel in White River Junction, Vt., for two weeks following a stay at the Upper Valley Haven. Cochran said she can finish her work in about half her shift since people have been isolating in their rooms, and is down from six to five workdays each week. “I’d rather take the risk and get the hours than to stay home bored,” she said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Amy Rey rolls her luggage up to the office to check in at the Super 8 in White River Junction, Vt., Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Rey said she’s originally from Hanover, but just arrived from Florida. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 3/31/2020 9:08:49 PM
Modified: 3/31/2020 9:08:43 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Richard Blodgett and Richard Cushman were taking a smoke break in Blodgett’s pickup truck at the Super 8 motel across from the VA Medical Center in White River Junction on Tuesday. The two men consider themselves fortunate.

“I’m not dead,” Blodgett said when asked how he is doing.

Very much alive and each with their own room, the two homeless veterans — Blodgett, ex-Marines, and Cushman, ex-Army — are staying at the Super 8 under a voucher program administered by Vermont Economic Services through the state’s Department for Children and Families. More than a dozen homeless people are temporarily residing at the 80-room Route 5 facility, referred there by The Upper Valley Haven during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blodgett, 57, and Cushman, 68, were in good spirits Tuesday and grateful not to be bunking in their usual accommodations — their vehicles.

“We’re not bad people,” Blodgett said. “We’re homeless.”

At the Super 8’s front desk, Travis Parent, the building supervisor, was working from behind a drive-up window where he booked guests and handed them a complimentary breakfast of blueberry muffin, fruit cup and coffee to go in a brown paper bag. Technically, Parent said, he is supposed to stop serving breakfast at 10 a.m., but he’s not being strict about it.

“If people are a little late, that’s OK. This is not the time to be splitting hairs,” said Parent, a Bradford, Vt., resident who has worked at the Super 8 for six years.

Super 8 owner Dick Mackay said the motel, in addition to people staying there under the VES program, also has a number of delivery drivers and guests who are between apartments staying there, but the 80-room Comfort Inn on Sykes Mountain Avenue, which he also owns, is booked at only 15% capacity.

Meanwhile, there was only a smattering of cars in the parking lots on Tuesday of neighboring hotels, Holiday Inn Express & Suites and White River Inn & Suites, both owned by Larkin Hospitality of South Burlington, Vt., and Fairfield Inn & Suites and Hampton Inn, both managed by Butson Hotels of Essex Junction, Vt.

Front desk staff at the hotels, who did not want to be identified because they are not authorized to speak for the companies, said they were open only to guests serving an “essential purpose” during the crisis.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Scott, expanding on his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” directive from last week, ordered that hotels in the state close except to accommodate workers in critical roles such as providing health care or transporting food to stock supermarkets. The governor also directed non-residents who recently arrived in the state to self-isolate for 14 days to slow spread of the virus.

Although Scott’s order is crippling for most of the state’s hospitality industry, several hotel operators said they already had seen cancellations flooding in and bookings evaporate over the previous two weeks as COVID-19 cases mushroomed across the country.

Cancellations and the absence of people making reservations are hitting tourism-dependent towns such as Woodstock particularly hard, dwarfing anything hotels experienced in 2011 in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.

“We were basically closed anyway because all our bookings were canceled,” said Patrick Fultz, owner of the Sleep Woodstock motel on Route 4 near Bridgewater. “We’re just hoping it doesn’t go into June.”

Fultz, instead, has opened up half of his 12-room roadside motel to “first responders” such as nurses and others in the medical field working at hospitals who do not want to go home and risk infecting a member of their family. He already has one nurse who lives in Bridgewater and works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center staying there.

“The rooms are empty and we can’t do anything with them,” said Fultz, who is not charging such workers for occupancy.

Other Woodstock hotels are trying to make do in the absence of business.

Barbara Shehan, general manager of The Shire, a 50-room hotel on Pleasant Street, said she and her husband, who is the chief engineer, “have been doing some deep cleaning and painting.” She said she has furloughed her eight employees and is “tentatively hoping to have people back by June 1,” but “it’s not looking hopeful for us.”

Less than a mile west at The Woodstocker bed-and-breakfast, co-owner Isabel Chicoine said, “We had a lot of cancellations even before the governor’s order.”

“Normally we are getting bookings for the summer and fall,” she said. “But we’re seeing zero bookings. And our business model is based on taking a 50% deposit and we’re not seeing any of that right now and that is hurting our cash flow.”

Chicoine and her husband, Karim Houry, bought the nine-room B&B two years ago when they relocated from New York. She described the current situation as “very hard and stressful” and said her husband is currently investigating how to access emergency federal loans they will need to hold them over and restart their business.

In the meantime, Chicoine and Houry this past weekend began preparing and selling to-go breakfasts: Customers — “75% of whom we know” — call in their order and pick up outside the B&B.

“It’s more to keep our sanity,” Chicoine said. “It keeps us going. You’ve got to be creative, right?”

John Lippman can be reached at 603-727-3219 or at jlippman@vnews.com.




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