throwback businesses

Vt. Throwback Businesses Adapt Well to Era of COVID-19

Certain businesses, such as the A&W franchise in Middlebury, have long excelled at promoting physical distancing

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For certain Vermont businesses, strategies that worked decades ago are suddenly back in fashion, because they promoted physical distancing even before the era of COVID-19.

"It's part of our nature," said Gail Daha of the A&W Restaurant on Route 7 in Middlebury.

For nearly 70 years, the location has operated as a car hop. There was no need to shut down a dining room during the pandemic because the Middlebury A&W never had one.

The burgers, hot dogs, and root beers come right to your vehicle. You could call it curbside—before curbside was cool.

"It's very unique to have something like this here," A&W customer Amy Buck Churchill said of her hometown.

There have been tweaks to protect against the virus spreading, the business noted. Servers are wearing masks and are having their temperatures checked before each shift, for example, and there are no food trays currently being placed on car windows.

Despite those and other steps, Buck Churchill told NECN and NBC10 Boston it still feels like the good old days at the A&W.

That's what the business's Gail Daha said people seem to want right now.

"It reminds them of a time that was less tumultuous," Daha theorized.

That same charm is driving folks to the more than 160-year-old Shelburne Country Store, said owner Deb Mayfield.

"The simpler the better," Mayfield said of hot-selling products like fudge, jigsaw puzzles, lawn games and the like. "Things that can draw [customers] together, or things that can draw them outdoors."

Mayfield said those old-fashioned comforts are being delivered in new ways: through lots of phone orders or drop-offs to local homes.

"This may be a revival of the past in many respects," Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, observed last week of businesses that operate as a classic car hop would.

Scott suggested small companies will need to keep tapping into their Yankee ingenuity in the weeks and months ahead to reach customers.

He pointed out certain throwback businesses may guide the way for how commerce could look for a while.

One example is Sunset Drive-In in Colchester. Physical distance is in the drive-in's DNA, giving folks who've been cooped up for weeks an evening out at the movies—without worrying about sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers.

"As far as actually being out and doing something, this is our first time," movie-goer Ann McBride said of a trip to the drive-in Sunday night with her daughter. "Very exciting!"

At some Vermont businesses—like the drive-in, car hop, and country store—what's old really is new again.

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