Hippo Best of 2021

This week’s issue is a celebration of many of the things that make up what many of us have come to think of as our community and our quality of life. It’s Hippo’s Best of 2021 issue, where you tell us what you like best about your community.

We made a few changes this year to reflect the realities of the effects of the pandemic on our community, including more questions relating to outdoor activities and removing some relating to live performances. We also changed how we classified the Best of picks. We kept the Best of the Best — those are the top vote getters in a category — but rather than having geographic Best of picks, such as Best of Manchester, we classified the next four top picks as “Readers Bests.” We hope you enjoy the results and explore (once you feel safe to do so) your community. The results start on page 10.

One of my favorite parts of the Hippo Best of is the Smaaart answers we get. When asked to name the “Thing New Hampshire does better than any other state,” many folks answered maple syrup or four seasons or the great outdoors or live free and others suggested, “hate Massachusetts,” or “just not Massachusetts,” and others hit on a drinking theme with answers such as “booze” or “great beer” or “liquor stores on the highway.”

On a question where we asked readers to fill in the blank — “2021 in NH: Year of the __” — we also got some creative answers. They included “mask,” “Covid,” “lockdown,” “pandemic” and “Oh God, what now,” but there were also a few that went in different directions, such as lobsters, cider doughnuts, beer, babies, divorce, smiles and tattoos. I guess I can see that too much cider doughnuts and beer leads to babies and divorce and soon to follow are smiles and tattoos. “Oh God, what now.”

One of the more surprising reader answers came from our multiple-choice question asking whether vegetables on pizza are a crime against pizza, OK in the case of __ vegetable, or always delicious. One of our vote-counters asked if we were being punked because a fair number of people answered, “broccoli.” Clearly that vote counter is in the George H.W. Bush camp. But as you can see on page 13 the great majority of Hippo readers think veggies on pizza are A-OK (a sentiment I share). I even like broccoli on pizza, though probably not enough to mention it by name.

Thank you to everyone who voted and congratulations to all the winners — even broccoli.

Who are your favorites

We’re now deep into the pandemic hoping against hope that 2021 will be the year that we’ll get to see friends, family and some of our favorite places. It’s too early to say how much will return to normal or even what we’ll consider normal then, but there is hope. Hope that we’ll get back to some of those routines and hope that we’ll discover new ones. Hope for one another.
This is Hippo’s 20th Best Of and like many of you we’ve had to make some adjustments to accommodate this pandemic. We’ve changed some of the questions and pared down some categories to better reflect the current situation and past year. The goal, as always, is really to get the pulse of our readers about what they value and like about their community. As big box stores, big tech and big finance occupy more of our landscape it’s all the more important to share what you think makes your community special and different from another place. It’s those great hiking trails, those places to take the kids sledding, the places to grab a scoop on a lazy Sunday or the person who kicks your butt into shape. It’s the coffee shop with art for sale on the walls and it’s the juicy burger that you probably didn’t need. It’s that slice of pizza that you tell people from out of town about.
Those are the things we want to know about in our annual Best Of and it’s those things that we enjoy now or look forward to enjoying when we can. You can vote in this year’s best of at hippopress.com. Voting ends Feb. 28.

Educational giveway

Some Republicans in the New Hampshire House are pushing legislation that could give about $4,100 to anyone sending their kids to a private school or home schooling them. As currently envisioned, it should not pass.

Arguments for direct grants to parents, like the ones this bill would set up, are that families should have the freedom to find a private school or home-school option if their public school is failing their children. It’s a powerful argument. It is unfair that children can be deprived of a good or adequate education by being stuck in a failing school.

But this legislation does not focus on the needs of the low-income families who have the least financial ability to leave poorly performing schools. Let’s be blunt here. This is largely a handout to parents who can already afford to send their children to a private school. If this legislation really wanted to address educational freedom then it would specifically target children in underperforming schools whose parents don’t earn enough money to send them to a private school. This legislation as currently envisioned doesn’t offer enough to truly bring school choice to those families. The proposed $4,100 is probably not enough to completely cover the cost of a private school. (For example, the non-parish-sponsored tuition listed on the websites of Manchester area Catholic elementary schools seems to be over $5,000 annually and many nonreligious schools are much more.) And it’s highly unlikely that low-income parents would be able to afford to stay home and home-school their children. For the parents and students who need it most, the legislation is still likely to leave families paying some of the private education bill.

This legislation could be re-envisioned to target those in need by means testing and targeting districts that fail to meet agreed-upon standards. Kids going to those schools could be eligible for a grant covering the entire cost of tuition to private school, charter school or a different public school district if their parents met agreed-upon low-income guidelines.

Rather than $4,100 going to 16,000 private school students (or possibly more, if additional New Hampshire families jump on this universally available deal), New Hampshire could focus the aid on a few thousand families who really need help. An additional benefit would be continuing to provide aid to those schools in districts that aren’t meeting expected standards for their students.

If we are truly trying to give each child the best opportunity to succeed then let’s target our aid to those that need it most.

We’re 20!

A look at Hippo’s beginnings in 2001 and at Hippo in 2020

December 27, 2001

Once we committed to publishing our first issue on January 4, 2001, we had to figure out the nuts and bolts of publishing: what would we include in that first issue, how to design it, how to organize the ads, how would we make sure there were as few errors as possible. The whole process of publishing, we were learning that first year. (See my Granite Views column on page 2 for more on the Hippo’s pre-print origins.)

DAN SZCZESNY (Hippo editor at the time and co-owner) Oh man, that first issue. What’s easy to forget looking back is that we were all pretty new to Manchester. In January of 2001, I had only been in New Hampshire for two years, in Manchester for less than that. But things were happening. The hockey rink was getting built, anchor businesses like Margaritas were starting to turn the downtown vibrant. It just felt like Manchester was on the move. So, deciding on that first cover and cover story, “Morning in Manchester,” was a pretty easy call.

We didn’t have a whole lot of space in those early days. Maybe 16 pages? So, the story was just a collection of things that made the city special, including some off the beaten path highlights. I remember writing about the Merci Boxcar up on the West Side, a block from where I was living.

January 4, 2001

We rented an office that was really just a closet in a downtown Manchester building. It was so small many of our meetings spilled into the hall. We placed two $500 desktop computers, loaded with a borrowed publishing program, next to each other so we could easily coordinate as we laid out the first issues. I think it’s fair to say we weren’t really ready to publish that first issue. So that second one came up on us fast. Jeff had an idea.

JEFF RAPSIS (Associate Publisher) I had just seen a year-end news story about an etiquette expert who ranked America’s 10 most polite cities. I was all about how good manners meant good business, especially in terms of visitors and conventions. So, with the new arena under construction and Manchester preparing to welcome more visitors, I suggested a light-hearted look at how the Queen City’s manners stacked up. With the clock already ticking for next week’s deadline, no one said no. So the next thing I knew I was at Manchester Airport with a photographer friend named Al Belote, us both pretending to be clueless tourists trying to get a cab to 1000 Elm St. to see how we visitors were treated. The cabbie was very helpful at our inane questions, but the big moment came when he asked for the fare. As a test, I handed him five $100 bills. He immediately handed back four of them and then carefully counted out $85 change, thus passing with flying colors. Also, because etiquette includes helping others in need, we staged a stunt where I filled up a giant satchel with paperback books, and then I repeatedly dumped the whole load in the middle of an Elm Street crosswalk to gauge the reaction.

That got us through week two, but during the first year there were more than a few cases of a planned cover story falling through at the last minute, and I’d be dragooned into writing something. It was a wild time when we were doing anything we could think of to keep the paper compelling.

Being a shoestring operation we couldn’t afford to hire reporters, so a lot of that first year was cajoling people to donate their time to write stories. The challenge with that is that publishing requires planning and deadlines and it’s, understandably, hard to get people who are volunteering their time to do either.

RAPSIS What is startling to me is how much came to be just on a whim. You and Dan were looking for content… so I suggested rather than fill it with traditional news or traditional opinion, you package perky insider commentary under a “Quality of Life” index, where we could quantify whether something was good or bad by adding or subtracting points. I’d seen a similar feature in one of the Philadelphia weeklies. And I remember this big serious discussion about how this would possibly work: who says start it at 50? Who decides how many points?

February 15, 2001

Roles in that first year were more blurred than they are now. In mid February 2001, I wrote a cover story about the dilapidated Valley Cemetery, which I lived across the street from at the time. It was and still is a beautiful example of cemeteries as a place for the living to enjoy. That story prompted a community group to form and raise funds to repair parts of the cemetery. We felt by telling these stories we were advocating for the city.

RAPSIS Another surprising, and gratifying, thing was to see a rich and vibrant city in the process of discovering itself. Few people realize that population-wise Manchester is the largest city in northern New England — much bigger than Burlington, Vermont, or Portland, Maine, or any other city north of Boston. And for years it had been home to a vibrant food and art scene that really hadn’t been covered or pulled together in any way. Even the small scale of what Hippo did at first was enough to really open people’s eyes to Manchester as a place that mattered. A lot of stuff was going on, all just waiting to be showcased in a publication intended to do just that. So for a while we ran extensive restaurant listings, just because that itself seemed newsworthy. And we’d hear about people like attorneys at Devine Millimet going on “Hippo lunches,” visiting places they’d never heard of that were listed in that week’s paper. Eventually, we started hearing from people who moved to Manchester in part because Hippo gave them confidence about the community’s quality of life. To think that the Hippo could have that much impact on people, and the region as a whole, is really rewarding to contemplate and makes it all worthwhile.

Through all that, the Hippo we know today started to take shape.

RAPSIS Even the paper’s name was a work in progress during the first year. It was originally called “HippoPress Manchester” (what a mouthful!) for most of the first year, then shortened to “HippoPress.” But quickly people (including us) began naturally referring to it simply as “The Hippo.” So in the fall of 2001 we changed the name on the front page to call it exactly that: The Hippo. So in a way, the community helped us find the publication’s true name.

We wrote about local rock bands, the city’s diners, neighborhood markets, places to hike, visual arts at the Currier, a new skate park, community singing groups, writer groups and anything else that told the story of Manchester.

RAPSIS It may seem unbelievable now, but at the time we started Hippo, Manchester was home base for not one but two full symphony orchestras: the professional New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra, and the New Hampshire Philharmonic, which gave talented amateurs a place to perform. (We also had two opera companies!) These institutions had been maintained for years by many of the city’s leading families: long-established professionals and business owners who would give generously to support outposts of high culture in the old mill town. As a classical music fan, I always thought this was a pretty cool aspect of the Queen City that was underappreciated. So in Hippo’s first month, when we were still scrambling to find and pull together stories worthy of the cover, it turned out one of the orchestras was seeking a new conductor. So I put on my classical music hat and dove into the scene, attending pre-concert receptions in the North End homes of supporters such as David and Barbara Stahl, hobnobbing with the musicians, and generally meeting with disbelief that a publication called “HippoPress” was doing a story on classical music in Manchester. It was the cover of our fourth issue, and it caused enough of a stir to establish Hippo as the source of classical music info in Greater Manchester. (Not that this was too hard.) But it showed us the value of taking the art scene seriously, as this added readership, which added to our credibility with advertisers. It wasn’t long before classical music became a regular beat in the early Hippo, which I covered like a sportswriter would cover the local baseball team — especially the New Hampshire Symphony’s search for a new conductor, which became like a slow-motion reality show. It was enough to push me back into making music myself: first, as a stunt, I joined the chorus of a local production of the opera Carmen, which resulted in a cover story showing an insider’s look at staging an opera at the Palace Theatre. To me, it was extremely gratifying to see Hippo’s classical music coverage find an audience and be appreciated by local musicians. Eventually, the paper’s coverage gradually broadened to include balanced coverage of all arts. We still report on classical music, but alas, the scene has changed: the New Hampshire Symphony and Granite State Opera closed in 2008, while the New Hampshire Philharmonic moved to Salem. Of the big four, only Opera NH continues to give local productions.

January 25, 2001

Though we focused on arts, food, entertainment and events, we also wanted to cover news that had fallen through the cracks of other media coverage. Jeff did this with a story on the Manchester Transit Authority.

RAPSIS This was one of our first actual attempts at “investigative” journalism, which showed clearly that each year Manchester’s city government was leaving hundreds of thousands dollars of federal public transit money on the table — instead of bolstering Manchester’s sorry bus system, it was going to North Country transport services because Manchester’s aldermen were too cheap to kick in the 20 percent seed money for the 80/20 match that covered urban transit subsidies. Funny thing was, this wasn’t intended as investigative journalism, but just as a look at the city’s neglected bus system and how to get the most out of it. Instead, once I started research it was so glaringly obvious that Manchester was turning up its nose every year at big money, we just had to go with that angle. I think the Mike Flint painting used for the cover was pure genius: an MTA bus careening out of control, with dollar signs exploding out of its exhaust pipe—that told the story better than any writer could do.

Back then if you wrote for Hippo you also probably delivered issues. Everyone was out delivering papers Wednesday night and Thursday. This lasted for years until we could finally afford a professional delivery staff. In the early days, John Fladd, an early Hippo writer, and current cocktail columnist, and friend, would help me with the downtown Manchester distribution. To do those deliveries you really needed two people — even in 2001. One would drive the car and count out the papers and the other would run the papers into the delivery location.

FLADD I jump out of the car and jog not-very-enthusiastically to the door of the bar. I go in and look around for a table near the back, without anyone sitting at it. I take three or four steps and drop the pile of papers on the table.”HIPpo Press!” I announce, then turn to leave the bar, which has gone momentarily silent. “We love you guys!” a man shouts from the other side of the room.

As the weeks went on in 2001 it got easier for us to publish. We were developing ways to handle all of the information that went into each paper. We got ahead enough to create a college guide and to plan a photo essay. We still struggled with deadlines and my personal health suffered as the paper took over every bit of my life. I think I gained 30 pounds that year and got very little sleep. But it was really fun.

June 7, 2001

After that first year, the paper grew, changed over the years, added professional staff — but to some extent the focus stayed the same: covering arts, entertainment and quality of life. In our 20th year we suddenly found ourselves back in a situation like 2001 — almost having to start from scratch with what we were covering and how we covered it. By the middle of March the very things that we cover, arts, entertainment, theater, music, restaurants, and events, had ground to a halt. How do you publish an arts and entertainment magazine when there aren’t a lot of arts and entertainment?

ANGIE SYKENY (Hippo’s arts reporter) On March 11 of last year, I emailed my editor to let her know that an event I was covering for the upcoming paper had been canceled out of caution about this “coronavirus thing.” I hope this isn’t going to become a trend. If things keep getting canceled, what am I going to write about? Within a week, all manner of routine had gone out the window, and I, the arts writer, found myself writing less about art and more about community health, emergency relief funds and remote education.

March 19, 2020

MEGHAN SIEGLER (Hippo’s managing editor) I remember going to your office on March 12 to tell you that I was starting to have concerns about events being canceled. How were we going to fill the paper if everything we wrote about was no longer happening? Things quickly went downhill after that conversation. The sheer number of “emergency!/help!/new plan!” emails flying back and forth between myself, Amy and our reporters and freelancers between March 12 and March 17 was insane. I sent one to my reporters that Saturday with the subject “Good news and bad news.” It was a detailed plan of all the changes we needed to make for the March 19 paper. The “good” news was that they could stop working on pretty much anything they had been working on. The bad news was that we needed to, very quickly, create content with the most up-to-date information — but that information was changing constantly.

AMY DIAZ (Hippo’s executive editor) On the morning of Friday, March 13, we were working on an issue with a cover story that involved different out-of-your-comfort-zone activities, all at venues out in the world. By the end of that day, a day full of canceled events, closed venues and notices of school closings, we realized that the entire paper, which by Friday is pretty close to being what you see when it hits stands the next week, would have to be redone. Even stories that could still run had to be reworked to acknowledge that a performance had been postponed or that an event was moving online.

SIEGLER The March 19 paper was essentially created in two work days. We came up with a “Viral NH” cover story that included pieces like “Social distancing and beer” (from Jeff Mucciarone) and “Self-isolation blues — and other local music to listen to at home” (from Michael Witthaus), plus a gigantic list of events that had been postponed or canceled that we had to keep adding to right up until we sent the paper to the printer.

MATT INGERSOLL (Hippo’s food reporter) Our annual coverage of New Hampshire Maple Weekend was the lead story in the Hippo’s food section when, seemingly overnight, the effects of the pandemic began to overspread the state. I received an email from my event contact on a Monday morning, the day before we were to go to print with that week’s issue, that Maple Weekend had been canceled. A complete rewrite of my story became necessary, with the focus switching from going out to enjoy a tour at your local sugarhouse to fun things you can do with local maple syrup in the safety of your own home kitchen.

Our advertising team faced the same challenge. We were past deadline when Gov. Chris Sununu issued a shutdown order that closed nearly 70 percent of the businesses, nonprofits and events that typically advertise. We started calling all of our advertisers asking them what they wanted us to do.

CHARLENE NICHOLS (Hippo’s advertising manager) It was the strangest feeling … one minute I’m selling and building ads and the next I’m killing them. It seemed to happen all at once. As a consultant, I felt desperate to help my businesses, whether to rewrite their messages and plans or to pull their ads completely. I was so worried about how they’d survive and then, later, as a salesperson, um, what’s going to happen to me? The Hippo?

DIAZ I am extremely proud of how everybody at the paper, the editorial and production staff but also our colleagues in advertising and distribution, came together and worked so hard through that first anxious weekend to produce that “Viral NH” issue.

On the ad and revenue side it was a pretty big hit — 65 percent of our revenue disappeared instantly. I wondered, can we even keep publishing? Should we shut down? But the more I thought about and sought out counsel, the more I realized that if we could we must publish. We had a job to do and our readers needed us to continue.

DIAZ As a paper whose primary mission is to help you find things to do and places to go, what do we focus on when everything is canceled and nothing is open? I thought that, whatever we did and however we went with the flow of events, our core should continue to be connecting readers to the scenes that have always been the most important to our coverage — the visual and performing arts, classical and popular music, books and the literary scene, nightlife, outdoor activities and the local food scene. And food — restaurants and their survival — was about to become one of the biggest stories, not just locally but nationally, of the economic impacts of the pandemic. I think it’s fitting that after that first Covid issue, our next two issues —“Keep Calm and Carry Out” and “Meanwhile, on the Farm” — focused on the adaptations of different aspects of the local food economy.

INGERSOLL Food-focused events scheduled for April, May and into the summer were being canceled or postponed one by one, having a dramatic effect on our coverage. In place of a weekend food festival or a restaurant grand opening, I’d instead write about a virtual or stay-at-home event, or I’d be covering the fallout of restaurants.

March 26, 2020

SIEGLER It hasn’t been all bad. Having a smaller staff has forced us all to redefine our roles to some degree; for me, that means that for the first time in years I’m doing some writing. Over the summer, for example, Amy asked if I’d be willing to write a cover story about running, and at first I said no. I read words and I fix words, but I had my doubts as to whether I could still write words. But Amy knows I’m kind of obsessed with running, and she probably knew that I’d eventually say yes specifically for that reason, which I did — and I kind of loved the whole experience. As it turns out, I’ve missed writing. So while the past year has taken me out of my comfort zone, I definitely don’t regret experiences like that.

Like many organizations out there the pandemic made things that had been routine much more difficult. On the distribution side, the folks that get out the Hippo each week, many of our drop locations were suddenly closed. My distribution manager kept calling me and saying we have a real problem here. He put a plan in place in a few days that shifted more copies away from the closed restaurants and cafes and into the supermarkets and our street boxes.

I can look back on 2020 and say that was a really horrible year, and it was. We say our revenue declined 65 percent and we had to lay off wonderful people. But I also look at it and say we survived and I’m so very grateful that our staff kept focused on putting out the best Hippo we could. This was also the first time in our 20 years that we asked readers to help financially contribute to Hippo either through a membership or donation. And they did and have continued to do so.

I don’t know if I’ll be here for our 40th anniversary, but someone will be. Southern New Hampshire continues to need professional independent food, news, arts and entertainment coverage. And we at Hippo will continue to provide that with the support of our staff, our community and our readers.

This story was possible with the generous financial support of Hippo readers. Hippo is very grateful to have the support of its readers. If you haven’t contributed yet, please consider a small contribution. Your contributions allow Hippo to write more stories and gets you access to additional stories and columns. 

We’re 20!

Twenty years ago Hippo published its first print issue — that’s about 1,040 issues ago. At the time, we had an idea of what we wanted to do — publish a weekly paper that covered Manchester’s food, arts, entertainment, culture and news. Central to that plan was to create a quality publication that we gave away.

Hippo started as a blog in the late winter of 2000 as a way for me, a reporter for the Union Leader at the time, to write those stories that didn’t fit a daily newspaper. As I recruited fellow reporters to write for it, it became more like a local Huffington Post of its day. It didn’t really have an editorial vision or focus. We just did it for fun.

That started to change in the spring of 2000 when Dan Szczesny, also a reporter at the Union Leader, joined me. He would edit the zine and I would try to figure out how to make it something that we could do for a living. Back then (and even now, locally) that meant publishing in print. Dan and I didn’t have much money between us so we needed a partner who could finance us. Former gubernatorial candidate and radio host at the time Arnie Arnesen suggested I speak with Jeff Rapsis, a former publisher of “Little” papers, a group of weekly newspapers outside Manchester owned by Nackey Loeb. He was also a former reporter for the Union Leader, Keene Sentinel and Claremont Eagle Times. It turned out Jeff and I had worked for the Keene Sentinel 10 years apart. Jeff took a chance on Dan and me and invested in our vision for an arts and entertainment weekly. The three of us formed a partnership that exists to this day.

In the fall of 2000 we began assembling a group of volunteers, many our friends, who would help write and deliver Hippo in our first year. As we started putting that first issue together in late December 2000, businesses, events and nonprofits stepped up to advertise. We would not have survived that first year without all of that support.

Twenty years later, in the midst of a pandemic, we’re still here, though we now cover all of central southern New Hampshire, and are still extremely lucky to get financial support from our readers and local nonprofits and businesses. That support enables us to continue to be New Hampshire’s largest publication, the state’s only arts and entertainment weekly and one the few remaining in New England. Thank you all. We’re very grateful to have your continued support.

This week, I want to offer an inside look at Hippo’s first year publishing, 2001, and at this past year, 2020 — our two most challenging years. What follows are my recollections, with excerpts from recollections of other people who were there for those two years.

Predictions for 2021

Now that 2020 is heading into the history books it seems appropriate to look forward to 2021 and predict with the greatest of accuracy what will happen in the next year. As some of you may remember, in last year’s column I did not predict the worldwide pandemic. I’m hoping to do better this year.

In 2021, I predict we in the Granite State can expect:

• A real blow-up with Massachusetts after the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Massachusetts can continue to tax the income of Granite Staters who work for Massachusetts-based employers but who, because of the pandemic, are working at home (in New Hampshire). The ruling so thoroughly Ps off Granite Staters that we hike the cost of cigarettes. Can we keep them from buying our lottery tickets?

• After discovering that Ghislaine Maxwell, an associate of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, was living in Bradford, N.H., this summer, Granite Staters will be mildly surprised to find that we have another somewhat famous resident living in the state — Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman. Manafort was convicted of tax fraud in 2018 and then recently pardoned. Apparently New Hampshire is the place to go to escape the limelight.

• Hospitality impresario and philanthropist Alex Ray will create his next attraction, Common Man Land, a barn-themed amusement park complete with a hay toss and painting (mostly barns and fences). Interestingly, there is no charge to get in but visitors must complete three hours of manual labor. And visitors love it!

• After losing the NH House, Senate and Executive Council, Democrats reassess their messaging and tactics. First up will be the introduction of Covid-safe hug tunnels (look it up) and then after that less discussion of an income tax and more discussion of legalizing weed.

• Nashua will break ground on its performing arts center and get a surprise artist in residence, singer, songwriter and actor Mandy Moore. Moore, a native of Nashua and avid hiker, decided it was time to climb all 48 4,000-footers in New Hampshire. Go, Moore, Go.

• Bill Binnie, owner of Binnie Media and former owner of NH1, will make a deal to buy WMUR from Hearst. And yes, he’ll bring with him Al Kaprielian. On top of that Binnie will promise to bring back the Uncle Gus Show though reimagined as the Auntie Sarah Show — starring none other than Sarah Silverman.

• Former Manchester School Board at-large member Rich Girard will run for mayor of Manchester.

• UCLA football coach and New Hampshire native Chip Kelly will team up with Greg Landry, also New Hampshire native and NFL quarterback, to open a football-themed destination steakhouse called the Red Zone at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Come on, you know you would want to eat there.

If any of these things happen, do not call or email me. Just enjoy them.

Giving thanks in a tough year

2020 is not going silently into the night. It’s going out kicking and screaming. And let’s not be nice about this: 2020 has been a brutal year for everyone. More than 500 Granite Staters have passed away from Covid, people have lost their livelihoods, whole industries have been torn apart, families have been separated, kids have been unschooled, and to top it all off we went through one of the most divisive elections in modern times with federal agencies actually warning about possible election-related civil unrest. I mean, come on. It’s no wonder people are drinking a bit more. Yes, beer, wine and liquor sales are up in New Hampshire.

But even in these challenging times there are things to be thankful for.

As fraught as the election was (and could still be, I guess) there wasn’t any violence. The day after most signs were down and people here were back to their daily lives. Is everyone happy? No. But most have moved on to their lives.

As bad as Covid has been, it could have been worse. New Hampshire has largely been successful in tamping down outbreaks, keeping the number of hospitalizations low and balancing the needs of people to move about with the needs of our medical system to combat the virus. Any loss of life is horrific.

While many local businesses (including us) and nonprofits have seen revenues plunge, many other businesses have seen surging demand. Everything from ATVs to swimming pools to builders to takeout pizza has seen strong revenue in 2020.

Unemployment rates have continued to fall. New Hampshire’s rate is now under 5 percent from a high of almost 17 percent in April. That does reflect some people leaving the workforce but it also reflects other jobs in other industries picking up the slack.

New Hampshire showed the country it was truly bipartisan by splitting results with Republicans dominating statewide races and Democrats dominating federal races. More than that, 75 percent of eligible voters voted — a modern record level of voting. And yes, folks, we do live in a democracy. We should also be thankful for that.

There is less traffic — just saying.

Folks in New Hampshire continue to be generous with their time and money in assisting and donating to local nonprofits. While many nonprofits that rely on in-person services have seen revenues decline others have seen people be more generous. It made the news recently that MacKenzie Scott (author, philanthropist and former wife of Jeff Bezos) gave more than $6 million to New Hampshire nonprofits.

Hundreds of Hippo readers have sent in financial contributions this year to support Hippo. We can’t say thank you enough.

As much as we want 2021 to be better than 2020, and I’m hopeful it will be, the road back to normal will be slower than we want. But there is a road back and for that I’m very thankful.

Shop the Shire

Being a local merchant before the pandemic was hard. The tides were against us — from competition from Amazon to the rising cost of rents and labor, it was hard to be a small business in New Hampshire.

But that didn’t stop many people from taking up the challenge, and for that I’m grateful. Small independent businesses — your local restaurant, bakery, gift shop, pet store, salon and music shop — give our community part of its character. It’s the basis for Hippo’s annual Best of Readers Poll. And as we’ve talked about for the past 20 years, these small businesses are what help make this region what it is.

Those small businesses also employ a lot of local people and more of the money you spend with us stays in the area; 73 percent of money you spend at an independent small business stays local versus 43 percent of money spent at a non-locally owned business, according to one recent study. I would guess even less stays local when spending money with Amazon or another out-of-state e-tailer. Locally owned businesses also contribute a lot more money to local charities and pay a lot more in local taxes. This keeps your taxes lower. Spending local makes sense for your community and yourself.

That in-person connection of a Toadstool Bookshop or a Manchester Music Mill or an Alapage or the Bakeshop On Kelley Street or Granite State Candy Shoppe or Palace Theatre or Cheers Bar and Grill has been severely impacted with the limiting of in-person contact throughout the pandemic. It’s like the very thing that gives these businesses their special sauce was yanked right away from them. At the very same moment, their chief competitors like Amazon, Walmart and UberEats got a huge boost by people stuck at home. This is understandable — Amazon is easy and makes a lot of sense when we’re trying to reduce our in-person contact.

What we can do, though, is make an effort to spend some of our money at these local businesses. Since many of our local businesses can’t afford some of the online shopping tools or their service can’t be sold online, our efforts might require us to pick up the phone or if we feel safe enough go down there and use their service. Support your local restaurant by buying a gift certificate or ordering takeout.

Just as we need to make the effort, small businesses need to as well. Consumers can recognize when businesses aren’t reasonably supporting local businesses around them. Just as with consumers it isn’t always easy but with some effort the rewards can be tremendous.

Though it can seem a bit overused, the saying “we’ll get through this together” has the right sentiment. We’ll get through this together by supporting each other.

The vote

In just a few days we may have an election that sees one of the highest turnout rates ever — and this is during a pandemic.

Many voting models suggest that as many as 150 million people will cast ballots in the Nov. 3 election. That’s about 65 percent of eligible voters nationwide.

In New Hampshire turnout is expected to be at an even higher rate, likely over 70 percent of eligible voters.

According to the New York Times on Oct. 26, about 61.3 million votes nationwide have already been cast in the 2020 election — a record number.

In a map on the Times website, they demonstrated how that number represents 44 percent of the total vote in 2016. In New Hampshire, 181,577 votes have been cast so far, according to WMUR’s politics newsletter on Oct. 27.

As with many states, New Hampshire made it easier for voters to vote by absentee ballot in this time of the coronavirus. This election, with our ability to request a ballot and return it to the town clerk — even all within the same day, if you wanted — we got a taste of something very close to the early voting that other states offer.

But this easy absentee voting isn’t something we’ll likely see for the next election. Here voting generally means going in person to polling places that are generally open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for one day. But planning when in your day to vote isn’t always easy. It can be hard to break away from work or to go in the early morning or the evening when it means there might be a line and you’re crunched for time. Many school districts make Election Day a holiday, which means you have to figure out what to do with the kids when you make your voting plans. What if there’s a wait? What if they get fidgety?

Forget gaming out what party benefits from what kind of voting; there’s something to be said for just getting more voters involved, and not just during the presidential election years but for other elections as well.

What would offering people more options for when they vote — by mail or in person before Election Day — look like in New Hampshire? What would it mean to have more Granite Staters exercising their right to have a say? In the aftermath of this election, it’s worth taking a closer look at making voting easier for everybody, not just those who have some flexibility in their Tuesdays.

Local independent business needs your support

Hippo’s annual magazine, Cool Things About New Hampshire, will hit newsstands next week. It highlights many of the local, independently owned businesses and nonprofits that make our corner of America unique.

The magazine pulls its cool things from our annual Hippo Best of Readers’ Poll (published this year in August). These people and businesses are part of what makes our community a community. On an economic level, they help keep our hard-earned dollars in New Hampshire. For every $100 we spend at a local business, $68 stays in the local economy; at a national chain, $43 out of every $100 spent stays here, according to independentwestand.org. I would guess even less stays local when we buy online from Amazon.

This sense of community that local independent businesses help foster requires lots of in-person interaction. Often, it’s that personal service that gives them a competitive advantage.

As one might imagine, the pandemic has been especially challenging for independently owned small businesses and nonprofits. Many national chains, such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell, have seen revenues trend up recently as consumers shift toward drive-thrus. Amazon, Walmart and Target too have all seen a rise in revenue as consumers opt for more online shopping.

Additional government support may be needed to save many small businesses, but with the political climate the way it is, it’s doubtful that any aid will be coming.

That leaves us, the consumers, to vote with our dollars, to make an effort to support the corner cafe rather than always heading to Dunkins or to shop at the local health food store rather than defaulting to Whole Foods. We get the community — with its cool, unique people and businesses — that we support.

Just as I’m asking you to support, as much as you reasonably can, local independent businesses by voting with your dollars, I also ask you to financially support the Hippo, which is also local and independent. For nearly 20 years we’d been completely ad-supported (99 percent of those being local ads) but that source of revenue has rapidly declined recently and we now need broader community support from readers.

We are so grateful to the readers who have already contributed (and we especially love the notes of support!). Please go online to hippopress.com to contribute or mail a contribution to: HippoPress, 195 McGregor St., Manchester NH 03102. We appreciate any amount (and we have some extra thank-yous for those who become members).

Thank you for reading, thank you for contributing and thank you for all the ways you support this community that is so important to us all.

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