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Grafton businesses dealing with a challenging year

by Christine Galeone

To say this year has been challenging would be an understatement. But even in dark times, there’s hope.

For some small businesses, the hope is that they’ll find new ways of serving customers. For others, it’s that their businesses will bounce back after the COVID-19 pandemic. And for those small businesses that need to close, the hope is that the owners will pour their skills, gifts and knowledge into exciting new ventures.

For Signature Finishes, the multi-artisan home décor, paint and antique shop, the decision to close its local shop has been bittersweet. Maureen Bane, the shop’s owner, said the North Grafton location will remain open until Aug. 24, and there are many items discounted by at least 50 percent. While business has been steady and there’s been an increase of sales of DIY supplies, Bane decided to close the shop and move to Maine because her husband is retiring. Although the North Grafton shop will close, the Cape Neddick shop will expand. And Bane will still sell some DIY supplies at Crompton Collective in Worcester. “We’re happy to be expanding in Maine,” Bane shared. She added, “We’re looking forward to the new chapter in life…but it’s hard to leave everybody, and it’s sad to say goodbye.”

She noted that customers will still be able to order many supplies through the shop’s website, And she may hold occasional workshops in the area. Bane said that she’s enjoyed splitting her time between Massachusetts and Maine for the past eight years, because of her great customers and vendors. “It’s the relationships you build,” she said about what she’ll miss.

While the Grafton Country Store, which re-opened for in-store shopping in June, has seen less foot traffic due to less out-of-state visitors and a significant decrease in Grafton Common foot traffic, the popular shop has continued to successfully pivot with the challenges thrown at it. In addition to gifts and décor (with some summer items discounted by at least 50 percent), it now sells items such as face masks and hand sanitizers. And it has created an array of gift baskets that has stirred customers’ enthusiasm.

Carol Dauphinais, the shop’s owner, is excited about a shift in her business that’s coming soon. Because she believes that Christmas shopping for gifts and décor will be especially difficult this year due to stores’ limited merchandise, long lines to get into discount and department stores and the possibility of another lockdown, she’s turning Cones on the Common (her shop’s café) into an additional area where customers can shop for Christmas items. Beginning Sept. 1, customers can also request private shopping parties for 10 people from 7 to 9 p.m. The parties will most likely include giveaways/raffles. “It will be fun,” Dauphinais said. She added, “I’m just being pro-active and planning ahead, so they can have a beautiful Christmas.”

Despite the decrease in foot traffic on the Common, a Grafton seasonal favorite that builds community, supports local farmers and encourages people to eat nutritious food was able to return in June. The Grafton Farmers Market is open every Wednesday from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. Fortunately, many of its regular vendors, including Foppema’s Farm, First Leaves Family Farm, Zia’s Kitchen Table and Anna Banana’s Homemade Goodness, have returned as well.

Another seasonal favorite that’s been affected by the pandemic is the Grafton Flea Market. However, even though it wasn’t able to re-open on April 5 as originally anticipated, it re-opened in June with COVID-19-related restrictions in place. It was also able to re-open its snack bar and its beer and wine garden. It’s scheduled to remain open every Sunday (and Labor Day) through Christmas.

Finally, Hear Joy Audiology has also re-opened and has been helping its patients and the community by raising awareness of how the pandemic has affected people with hearing loss and what can be done to improve their quality of life. Dr. Mary Ellen Curran Rancourt, who owns

and runs the South Grafton practice, has been posting resource links on her business’s Facebook page that can help people experiencing hearing loss and those with loved ones who are experiencing it. She’s also posted information about how to get captioning for broadcasts from various cable providers.

She said that due to the need for masks, many people are struggling to hear what others are saying. Some people are straining to hear colleagues/students speaking during ZOOM meetings. It leaves people feeling even more isolated than they already are in these trying times. And Rancourt said that the inability to hear is also linked to dementia and safety issues. But while some think they can’t improve the situation, there are things they can do. Rancourt said that there are apps that people can use to adjust their hearing aids so that they can hear more clearly when others are speaking through masks. Hearing aids by manufacturers that aren’t associated with an app can be adjusted remotely or manually by Rancourt. Rancourt said, “All of these little things that don’t seem like a big deal can really keep people engaged.”

She’s also been helping children with hearing loss prepare to return to school. Whether or not they will attend school remotely, she helps them with ear molds, hearing aid adjustments, Chromebook settings and more.

In these dark times, many of Grafton’s small businesses continue to shine. They’ve embraced hope and let it fuel some wonderful things. They remind us that there are brighter days ahead.

Please note that this information was correct at the time the column was written. However, because the pandemic is rapidly changing things, it’s best to check the websites and social media pages of any business to see if new changes have been implemented. Contact Christine with your business news items at [email protected].