HAMPTON - Patriot's Corner at Hampton Beach is busy as it's ever been amid the coronavirus pandemic, especially since their gas prices suddenly dropped to $1.49 a gallon this week.
Jessica Wurtzburger wears gloves when she rings people up in the small convenience store, which includes a laundromat. Surfaces are wiped down constantly, she says, including the counter after every few customers to protect patrons as well as herself.
"Some people make fun that I have gloves on, and others applaud me," said Wurtzburger, who has some concern about being exposed. "I have a daughter, and I don't want to bring anything home."
Employees in department stores, local shops and restaurants offering takeout say they know the risk of going to work during the pandemic, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19 spread through respiratory droplets. The pandemic has led to people across the nation practicing social-distancing to slow the spread, but many are still exposed to busy crowds when they go to work.
Walmart manager Sara Racicot said the last two weeks have been "crazy busy" in the Epping and Portsmouth stores, where she has been working during the pandemic, employees constantly restocking shelves and ringing up long lines. Tape has been put down at the checkout area to mark where people can stand six feet apart, but she said it is hard to make sure customers don't accidentally get too close.
"It's just been scary to work in retail when people are wearing masks and I have to ring up front," Racicot said.
She said she gets concerned when customers do not take social-distancing seriously, occasionally seeing them joke about coughing and refer to the coronavirus as "just a flu."
"I think people have been better about it now but then you still get some people," she said.
Racicot said customers also have shown kindness to employees, some thanking her for coming to work. She said the company has given employees bonuses that help them feel appreciated, as well as supplied them with gloves to stay clean.
Larry R. Frost, who works at the Seabrook Walmart collecting shopping carts, posted on Facebook that some customers were leaving used protective plastic gloves in their carts when they were done shopping.
He said he found 15 or 20 pairs of gloves in the carts the day he decided to post about it and he hopes people will try to be more careful so workers can stay healthy.
"That concerns me that they're not really thinking about the worker," Frost said. "If the worker gets sick, they can't get help anymore."
Restaurant owners running takeout orders to stay open say they have sharpened their social-distancing awareness.
Brittany Ward, who owns Britt's Pizzeria and Pub in Hampton, has been telling her staff to avoid handling cash when possible. If they feel uncomfortable touching the pen used to sign the receipt, she said they can let the customer keep it. Over the weekend, she stopped allowing people to enter her pizza place and had them wait in their cars, pizza boxes handed to them through their passenger side window to create more distance.
Ward said she stopped letting people come inside after she noticed how many customers were driving to Britt's with out-of-state license plates. It planted a new fear that people from all over were walking into her pizzeria to pick up their food and accidentally spreading the virus inside.
"It got to a point of being very nerve-wracking," Ward said. "It is really scary with how quickly it can spread."
Some said the pandemic put themselves and their customers at too great a risk for them to keep going.
Marelli's Market in downtown Hampton, the oldest business in town, was seeing its normal amount of foot traffic, according to co-owner Karen Raynes. They closed the store for the first time in its 106-year history Monday for safety reasons, partly because of their age. Raynes said she and her sister are in their 70s, while their uncle who runs the store with them is 83.
"We're in that high-risk area of people who could get infected, and we also didn't want to get it and give it to other people," Raynes said. "I look forward to coming back again, but I have no idea when that will be."
JC Conrow, manager at the Lowe's Home Improvement in Seabrook, said he has met the pandemic's threat to morale with confidence and optimism. He hasn't been able to do his morning huddles with his staff because of the pandemic, but he said he works to give employees support and remind them of their importance to the public in a time of crisis. He said employees who prefer to not work during the crisis out of concern for their health are still getting paid so they don't feel pressured to put themselves at risk.
"The way I look at it, when it's all said and done, Lowe's is going to be there," Conrow said. "We rely on the power of positivity."