MOULTONBOROUGH — Elizabeth Cousins has worked at Jo Jo’s Country Store, on Moultonborough Neck Road, since she was in high school. She’s now a university student, but still comes back to the small store every summer. This summer is no different, except that she was there on Friday, March 27, when the store opened for the season, because – and despite of – the coronavirus.
Cousins, a junior at the University of New Hampshire who is studying to become a sports psychologist, was sent home to continue her education remotely until the risk of transmitting COVID-19 subsidies. That gave her the chance to schedule hours at the store in between her studies this spring.
She said she had no concerns about working in a market, one of the few businesses still open to the public because it is deemed “essential” by the state government.
“I know that we have a great hygiene system here, everything has been taken to the next level as far as sanitation levels. If I stay up with my hygiene, and so does the store, there’s very little risk of getting sick,” said Cousins, who can be found making whoopie pies in the bakery, helping out in the deli, and dealing directly with customers.
That dedication to serve the public hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Our associates are working extremely hard in a very risky environment during this COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Petell, president of E.M. Heath, Inc., the company that operates Jo Jo’s Country Store, as well as E.M. Heath Supermarket and E.M. Heath Hardware in Center Harbor, and the Golden Pond Country Store in Holderness. Petell said there are about 100 employees between all the stores, and the company has given each of them a $2 per hour raise for an eight-week period, as a sign of appreciation.
“They’re the ones on the front lines, dealing with this,” Petell said.
At Jo Jo’s, manager Robert Matheson said he hasn’t seen any employees waver in face of the risk. In fact, the coronavirus has had the opposite effect for this store, which has had difficulty in recent years attracting enough workers.
“This year, it’s a little bit better because of what’s going on. We’ve had three or four people coming in who are out of work, looking for work,” Matheson said. “It’s helping us adequately staff the store during these hard times.”
When he announced to his employees that they’d get a little bonus this spring, Matheson said, “I got some pretty happy faces out of that. Everybody was, ‘Wow, we’re appreciated.’ It wasn’t something that needed to be done, but they were excited that someone was rewarding them for their work ethic.”
After her first shift of the season, Cousins said that she indeed felt appreciated – both by the company and by the customers. If not for Jo Jo’s, people who live on Moultonborough Neck or Long Island would have to travel much further for basic necessities, whoopie pies and, yes, toilet paper.
“There’s such a small community up here, everyone is super grateful that we were open today,” Cousins said on March 27. For some of the regular patrons, a trip to Jo Jo’s might be a chance for social interaction – albeit at a healthy distance – as well as groceries or sandwiches. “I always strike up a conversation with the customers, because they’re so happy when they’re here.”
Cousins continued, “This is a hard time for everyone in this country, in this world. Knowing that the company was taking extra measures to make sure we’re OK warmed my heart. Grocery stores are the stores that need to stay open, and it’s nice to know that they’re recognizing their employees.”