For Some N.H. Businesses, Primary Is A Gift

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Many New Hampshire voters can't wait for the primary to be over — the campaign ads plastering the local airwaves, the robo-calls from candidates, the reporters swarming their cities and towns. But for some New Hampshire businesses, primary season is a gift.

For Darlene and Eric Johnston, who run Manchester's Ash Street Inn, the primary is a gift. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)
For Darlene and Eric Johnston, who run the Ash Street Inn, the primary is a gift. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)

Consider Eric Johnston. He loves the New Hampshire primary. He and his wife Darlene run a bed-and-breakfast in downtown Manchester called the Ash Street Inn. In a typical January, they'd be lucky to have 25 rooms filled the whole month. But so far this January, "I think right now we're up to 70,” he said.

All of this is thanks to the primary. In fact, the inn has been sold out for much of this week, with all five of its rooms booked for multiple-night stays. Because when the primary comes to New Hampshire, people like Dan Schulman come to town. Schulman is with Mother Jones magazine and is covering the Republican primaries with a colleague.

"We were searching about last-minute and everything was booked,” Schulman explained. “We managed to get the last few rooms here."

That's joyful news to small-business owners like the Johnstons, especially in a season when business is usually nearly dead, "because in January, February and March, there is no reason to come to Manchester on purpose,” Eric Johnston said. Unless you're a business traveler, and the Ash Street Inn does get some of those. But the New Hampshire primary draws many other types of visitors.

"Three of the rooms are media, and the other ones that have been here are political junkies, like people who come from out of state to go to candidates' events and be bystanders to the political theater," Eric Johnston said.

“We've had bankers from Seattle and lawyers from Chicago and people who just drop what they're doing for two weeks out of a year and come and hand out leaflets and make phone calls,” added Darlene Johnston.

For the dining and lodging sector in particular, especially in the hub of Manchester, spillover revenue from the primary flows generously.

“But we don't get the candidates,” she said. “The candidates want to be some place where they can be seen. And with our five little rooms, nobody sees them here."

"Probably the biggest name that we ever had was, at the last primary, Dan Rather was here,” Eric Johnston recalled. “Oh yeah — right there. Yup. Right in that room!”

As we were talking in the inn's breakfast room, another guest stepped in to grab a cup of tea.

"He's the economist,” Eric Johnston whispered to me. “Washington bureau chief for The Economist."

Indeed it was.

That journalist, Peter David, had traveled to New Hampshire from Britain to cover the primary and had booked a room at the inn for more than a week. David remarked that he's noticed that many other businesses in Manchester — restaurants, cafes — have seemed unusually packed.

"So obviously democracy is not only a very valuable thing to have for political reasons,” David said, “but a terrific boon to the local economy."

The Johnstons can attest to that. The Ash Street Inn's rooms normally top out at $169 this time of year — but not right now.

“With the primary, they're $199,” Johnston said.

And are people paying that?

"Oh my God, yes,” he said. “They think we're crazy for not charging enough."

Not every business benefits from the primary, and not every part of the state. But for the dining and lodging sector in particular, especially in the hub of Manchester, spillover revenue from the primary flows generously.

"All the little guys are getting a huge bump,” Johnston said. “You know, we're talking about like a 10 percent bump in revenue for our year, all in one month. It's nice. My banker will be happy."


This program aired on January 10, 2012.

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Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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