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Retail meltdown will reshape Main St.: Popular gelato shop won’t return, could be first of many downtown

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    Joe Guertin, of Hanover, N.H., makes a call in downtown Hanover on Friday, May 8, 2020. Citing financial and regulatory issues operating in a post-COVID-19 environment, owner Morgan Morano announced Morano Gelato will not be re-opening. "That's a tragedy," Guertin said when told of the news. "I think it's a loss. I worry about how many other businesses in town might not make it." (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 5/8/2020 9:30:31 PM
Modified: 5/8/2020 9:30:16 PM

HANOVER — In a blow to South Main Street that some fear could be the beginning of a worrisome trend, the owner of a popular gelato cafe said Friday that it has closed permanently and will not reopen once coronavirus restrictions on restaurants are lifted.

“We have simply lost this opportunity and there is no recovering,” Morano Gelato owner Morgan Morano said in a message posted on her business’s website.

The decision comes as Hanover and Lebanon officials are meeting with restaurant owners to discuss moving seating outside and into the street to help accommodate the 6-foot separation between tables under Gov. Chris Sununu’s order allowing restaurants to reopen May 18.

Hanover is discussing carving out parking spaces for dining tables in front of South Main Street restaurants as well as the parking lot behind Molly’s and Town Hall and along South Street.

Lebanon officials on Friday said they are creating dining areas in parking spaces in front of Salt hill Pub and the city’s temporary offices on West Park Street, as well as blocking off Court Street to traffic to make room for the pub and a tented dining area for Three Tomatoes Trattoria.

The changes will be in effect from May 15 to Sept. 15, the city said, and vehicles will no longer be able to access the parking lot behind City Hall and the Lebanon Opera House from Colburn Park via Court Street.

The permanent closing of Morano Gelato adjacent to the Nugget movie theater will see the disappearance of one of Hanover’s most patronized destinations. Originally opened by Morano in 2010 before she sold the business in 2013 and then reacquired it in 2017, Morano Gelato was famous for its velvety and flavorful gelatos that Morano began by selling out of a freezer case at the Norwich Farmers Market before opening her first cafe in the Rosey Jekes building.

Morano said in her website post that new COVID-19 related health and safety protocols would make it impossible to successfully operate her business, which in addition to the Hanover location includes a second store in the Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill, Mass., near Boston College. And she predicted the new rules spell legal headaches for other business owners.

“The new COVID-19 safety requirements of businesses to operate in this ‘new normal’ we are in will require additional capital from already strained businesses to purchase new equipment, create new safety operational manuals, and employ safety and cleaning protocols regularly ... This now leaves these businesses vulnerable to lawsuit liabilities — from consumers and employees to the all-so-fun passerby who wants to simply blow their whistle,” Morano said.

Morano said new rules regarding social distancing will have an outsized impact on her business, where closely packed lines of customers for the gelato counter snake outside the door on a hot summer day.

“Our company depends on long lines in the summer season to carry us through the colder months,” she wrote.

A message seeking comment from her was not returned on Friday.

Most downtown Hanover businesses have been shuttered since March in compliance with the state’s orders to close non-essential businesses, and thousands of Dartmouth College students are at home since the campus is closed for the spring and summer terms, with classes online. The effect on the town’s restaurants and shops has been profound: long known as a place where it can be impossible to find a parking space downtown, on a recent Friday night the parking lot located behind Molly’s and the Nugget Arcade building held not a single vehicle.

COVID-19 is known to have claimed at least one other downtown business: AroMed Essentials, a store that sold aromatherapy and CBD products, which opened last summer in the space formerly occupied by crafts store Folk on Allen Street, will not reopen, according to Town Manager Julia Griffin.

“I think (the shutdown) has been financially devastating to her, which is really sad,” Griffin said of Morano’s decision not to reopen her gelato cafe.

Griffin said she is unaware of other businesses that do not plan to reopen, although she said she is waiting to learn the fate of the J.Crew clothing store on South Main Street. On Monday, J.Crew’s parent company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization, the first of large retailer to declare bankruptcy because of the pandemic. Analysts expect some number of J.Crew’s 181 stores will close as part of the bankruptcy, though the company has not yet announced any specific outlets.

As for turning parking spaces on the street into table areas for restaurants, Griffin said the object is to make up for the capacity lost indoors as a result of social distancing protocols. Another possible location for tables is the alley between the cafe Dirt Cowboy and the Dartmouth senior society Casque & Gauntlet.

“We’re working very actively to get the town’s restaurants open again,” she said.

To allay concern about getting sideswiped while dining al fresco, the town will provide Jersey barriers to protect diners from nearby traffic.

In Lebanon, Three Tomatoes owner Robert Meyers said he will pay for a tent on Court Street that will have about 16 tables, which will make up for tables he is losing under the awning of the trattoria because of spacing considerations. He’s also looking at placing another four or so tables on the mall area.

Meyers credited City Manager Shaun Mulholland with cutting through the red tape to turn the city’s municipal assets into dining spots.

“He said that people need Lebanon coming back to life,” Meyers said “It will look very festive ... very Euro.”

Contact John Lippman at

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