Ensuring a living wage - Hermit Woods offers $15 per hour to employees


MEREDITH — Responding to the ongoing national debate about the minimum wage, the partners at Hermit Woods Winery announced this week that beginning on Friday, Aug. 19, all its employees will be paid "a living wage" of $15 per hour.

In a prepared statement, Bob Manley, who with Ken Hardcastle and Chuck Lawrence owns the business, said "We have built a hardworking, dedicated team. We want to be able to reward them with a living wage so they can support their families and pursue their passions in life as we have."

Manley said the company operates with eight full-time and part-time employees, some recent graduates carrying student debt, others with families to support and two single mothers. All, including one placed by Lakes Region Community Services who holds an entry level position, will receive $15 per hour, an increase of $3 per hour, or 25 percent.

Jennifer Dystra of Northfield, the sales and distribution manager, joined Hermet Woods in April.

"It's going to be the difference between scraping by and not having anything to save and saving something," she said. "I have two kids that I support. It's a huge difference."

"Finding the right people for the right jobs," Manley said, "has been a challenge." He explained that the winery invests considerable time and effort training its employees, providing them with a knowledge and appreciation of wines. "Our employees know about wine in general and our wines in particular," he continued. "Our job is not to sell wine, but to create a unique experience, to educate our customers about wine and encourage their interest in our wines in a setting where they are comfortable." Employees, he described as hosts and hostesses, not sales clerks.

Hardcastle said that 85 percent of all sales originate in the tasting room in Meredith. He hopes that the pay raise will reflect itself in the experience of customers if those catering to them are not worried about how to make ends meet. "Having the additional money helps alleviate personal financial stress," he remarked. "So everyone who comes in will see happy people serving them."

"We can't afford to keep turning employees over," Manley said, adding that "we want to offer the opportunity to make a career. Anticipating significant expansion of the business in the next two to five years, he remarked "there will be lots of opportunity here."

On the company website the partners explain that they reached the figure of $15 after reviewing data that indicated the amount is widely considered "a living wage" throughout the country based on the cost of living. At the same time, they acknowledged that the cost of living in New Hampshire is about 16 percent higher than elsewhere and conceded that "$15 an hour would be the minimum for most people to adequately supports themselves and their families."

Manley said that that to meet the cost of the raise a surcharge of 3.5 percent will be added to every sale, stressing that all the proceeds from the surcharge will be applied to the payroll. He said the average purchase is $50, for which the surcharge would amount to $1.75. He pointed out that customers pay all the expenses of operating the winery, including the wages of employees.

08-16 Hermit Woods Liveable Wage

Jennifer Dykstra, sales and distribution manager at Hermit Woods Winery in Meredith, and co-owner Ken Hardcastle, are both excited about the company's decision to enact a surcharge on its products in order to pay each employee $15 per hour. Co-owner Bob Manley said, "We are not sure $15 is enough, but it is a heck of a lot closer than $12."(Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)


32 and done - Roger Sorrell retires from Meredith Planning Board


MEREDITH — Roger Sorrell, who has retired after serving on the Planning Board without interruption for the past 32 years, was honored by the Board of Selectmen Monday.

A resident of Meredith since 1952, Sorrell graduated from Inter-Lakes High School in 1964 and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, the first with the United States Air Force and the second with the Special Forces of the United States Army. In 1970, he opened Roger's Repairs, an automotive repair shop, which he has operated ever since.

Herb Vadney, a past chairman of the Planning Board who served 12 years with Sorrell, said that his extensive knowledge of the town, particularly the properties within it , their histories and their owners, represented a valuable asset to the board. He recalled that Sorrell was especially helpful when the board toured sites. Sorrell, he remarked, would point "where he hunted deer — in the summer — where he hid beer as a teenager and the logging roads he took to evade the police."
During board meetings he might whisper asides like "check out the lady at the back," making it difficult to keep a straight face.

Bob Flanders, a former selectman and veteran of the Planning Board, told Sorrell "it was a pleasure working with you" and said his greatest contribution to the work of the board was "his good old Yankee common sense."

Bill Bayard, who currently chairs the Planning Board, also spoke of Sorrell's encyclopedic knowledge of the town, which he added often prompted him to seek his help.

Nate Torr, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, read a proclamation recounting Sorrell's career and describing him as "thoughtful, fair and steady."

The selectmen rose from their seats and one after another exchanges warm hugs and firm handshakes with Sorrell, who was surrounded by by family and friends.

Judge tosses evidence, statements in Gilford heroin possession charge


LACONIA — All of the drug evidence against a local man arrested by Gilford Police on Feb. 26 has been tossed by a superior count judge who said it was obtained through an unlawful tow of his car.

Presiding Justice James O'Neill ruled that a spoon with heroin residue found in Joshua Levesque's car during an inventory search cannot be given to a jury.

At issue was whether or not the officer followed his own department's towing policy when he determined the car couldn't safely be driven, despite the fact that it was in a private parking lot.

Levesque's car had a broken taillight assembly that had been repaired using red automotive tape and this led to the traffic stop. The officer said he noticed a crack in the windshield and the combination of those two things led his to believe the car was unsafe.

Levesque pulled into a private parking lot and parked in a legitimate parking space.

Because Levesque had a warrant for his arrest from a different jurisdiction, he was taken into custody and it was at this point the officer made the decision to tow the car because, he said, it wasn't road worthy.

Prior to any police-ordered towing, police conduct an non-investigatory inventory search designed to protect the property owner from theft by either the police and or the tow, company as well as to protect police from false claims being filed against them and/or dangerous items in the vehicle. Nearly all police department have them and most of them are similar and based on provisions in New Hampshire law.

Levesque also requested the court suppress any statements made by him to police because he was interrogated without being read his Miranda rights or warning.

O'Neill agreed and said none of his statements can be used against him.

According to court documents, when Levesque learned he was spending the weekend in jail, he began to cry. The arresting officer asked him what was wrong and he allegedly responded he was going to be sick from what he hinted was heroin withdrawal while in jail.
O'Neill said that the question "What's wrong?" may seem innocuous on the surface, but suppressed the statements because he said any officer should know that it would likely elicit a response given Levesque's condition and demeanor.

Police continued to ask Levesque questions after he was told he would be facing additional charges for the residue, and O'Neill said they should have known better and that the questions would likely result in incriminating statements.