MOULTONBOROUGH — Late winter and early spring – “mud season” – usually gives the crew at Skelley’s Market a chance to catch up after the winter season, when they cater to people at the lake for snowmobiling and ice fishing, and to prepare for the coming summer season, when their business booms.
But this year is different, said owner Chip Skelley.
“We definitely are seeing people that have summer homes here,” he said. The market, which has the usual convenience store items as well as a limited grocery section, ice cream, subs and pizza menu, is perfectly positioned to cater to a couple of lakeside residential developments, which usually start to become active around Memorial Day. With people being urged to “socially distance” themselves, it appears that people who own a second home in the Lakes Region have chosen to self-isolate here.
“I would say that a lot of those people are up in their houses and hunkering down,” Skelley said, adding that the customers he’s seeing are familiar faces. “It’s a lot of people we see in the summer, what we call summer people.”
And for some in the trades, a trip to New Hampshire is an opportunity to make some money while also escaping a place where the virus is spiking. At around midday on Thursday, Jennifer Smith was loading groceries into the cab of a pickup truck parked at Hannaford Supermarket. She said she and her boyfriend's company, DDT Timberframes, are based in Charlemont, Massachusetts, and build homes all over New England. When they got a chance to build a home in Meredith, they initially considered staying at home, but then decided that Meredith was a preferable place to spend the spring.
"It seemed like a wise move to come up and get away from the cities," Smith said. She saw coronavirus, and society's response to it, as a complicated problem. If everyone shuts down, she said, it would certainly slow the virus's spread. "Our economy is another thing to think about," she said, so they felt that they could take the job, consider precautions to protect their health, and head to the Lakes Region.
Others have also noticed the trend, and have taken to social media to make their view known. Facebook user “Holly Janowiec Van Blarigan” responded to a Laconia Daily Sun article by saying that people shouldn’t be able to travel from out of state to occupy a second home. She wrote, “I don’t care if this is the unpopular opinion. Hospitals in the lakes and mountain regions can’t handle an outbreak, and the snowbirds should stay south, NH does not need to add potential cases from out of staters.”
Indeed, some other vacation areas such as Cape May in New Jersey, and Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, are explicitly asking residents of Boston and New York City, which both are seeing outbreaks, to stay away. New Hampshire officials aren’t as unwelcoming, though.
Asked about the trend during a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu answered by urging visitors to do what every other resident is asked to do.
“Anybody who’s been traveling out of state, they take that very seriously, they self-isolate,” Sununu said. “At this point we just want anybody who has been traveling out of state, out of their community, into areas they don’t normally travel, to again take that quarantine, that self-quarantine, very seriously, it’s going to be a big, big effort. We’re really trying to elevate the message here, people have to take this seriously.”
Skelley, at the Moultonborough convenience store, was more in line with the governor’s message: “The way I look at it, if you own a home in New Hampshire, you should be able to go to it,” he said. “It’s more important that you wash your hands, keep your distance, and hunker down.”
Chris Kelly, owner and broker at RE/MAX Bayside in Meredith, said he had also noticed an early return of what Skelley called “summer people.”
“Yes, people have opted to leave the more crowded areas to get up to an area that, if they own a second home, they want to be up here,” Kelly said. He hasn’t seen an increase in the rental market, though, he said. “But if they own a property in Southdown Shores, Meredith Neck, because they don’t have to show up to work, but they have to keep working, they don’t have to go to school, but they have to keep doing their school work,” he said. And when the work is done, there’s more room to breathe in the Lakes Region – people can go out in their yard, walk along the roads, or even find a quiet trail to explore, without violating anyone’s social distance.
Like Skelley, Kelly’s business hasn’t taken a mud season nap this year.
“This past week, we’ve been really fortunate as an office. We’ve put eight properties under agreement. The real estate market does not seem to be slowing down. Half of those people were either looking to relocate or looking for a second home.” Kelly said the coronavirus pandemic might result in increased interest in New Hampshire real estate, as people won’t want to travel overseas or to a crowded metro environment. In the Lakes Region, though, there’s still fun and relaxation to be had, even while taking prudent precautions.
“If anybody is vacationing for the summertime, they better book their properties now,” Kelly said. “People are going to want to be in New Hampshire for the summer of 2020 – they see it as a safer option.”