Few taverns have a barstool signed in black Sharpie by former president Bill Clinton. Fewer still have created burgers specifically for former Arkansas and Texas governors Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry. And probably just one can also boast that former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina and current Ohio governor John Kasich are practically lunchtime regulars.
That unique nexus of politics and pub fare is The Barley House, a restaurant and tavern in Concord, New Hampshire. In fact, for the third successive election cycle, the establishment is a necessary campaign stop for presidential hopefuls as they press the flesh with locals, hoping for a win in the nation's first primary. (Iowa kicks off the process with caucuses on February 1.)
Since 2008, owner Brian Shea estimates, upward of 20 presidential candidates have made their way to his tavern in the Granite State's capital. Like other business owners thrust into the backdrop of primary events, he's found that sharing the presidential limelight has been a very effective, if unusual, way to boost the profile of his business.
While primaries and caucuses may seem like they matter only to politicians and the voters they hope to win over, they have become an important prop to local economies, particular in the early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, which all occur in February. And more than a few businesses have made their names by taking part.
"Our slogan is 'The road to the White House starts at The Barley House,'" Shea says.
The candidates come calling
Shea can remember exactly when his business became the center of national attention. It was a matter of location and luck, he says: The Barley House happens to be across the street from the New Hampshire State House. In 2008, Huckabee, who had just won the Iowa caucuses, had his campaign phone up to say he'd be stopping by the following day for lunch. The national news media got wind of it and filled the 165-seat restaurant early in the morning, before the former governor's arrival.
"That kind of got us into the national spotlight, and from then on we became a campaign stop," Shea says, adding that the press corps unfortunately didn't order anything while they waited, which was an unexpected downside to all the attention.
Since then, Shea says, he's been proactive about using the primary season as a way to brand and advertise his business. Following the Huckabee event, he invited WKXL, a local radio station, into the bar to do taped interviews with other candidates. The spots--called Pints to Politics: The Road to the White House--have become a staple of campaign life that candidates want to participate in, Shea says, and inevitably include a mention that they're being recorded at his restaurant.
"The Barley House is one of the key stopovers in the New Hampshire primary, and when the candidates come in, they want to know who else has been there before," says Chris Ryan, who co-hosts the show. For the current election cycle, Ryan has already interviewed Democrats including Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley. On the Republican side, he's talked to former brain surgeon Ben Carson, Ohio governor John Kasich, and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina.
Similarly, when photographers from the Associated Press and other media outlets are around, Shea says he always makes an introduction and insists the bar be mentioned by name in the captions.
The primary effect
While it's hard to gauge the direct impact all the candidate appearances have had on the 43-employee restaurant, Shea says, revenue in the three months leading up to the presidential primary can jump between 5 and 10 percent. Overall, states that hold primaries can boost their per capita revenue by nearly 10 percent, according to a 2015 academic paper by Montana State University researchers. For 2008, campaigns spent close to $350 million for direct expenses related to all state primaries, the researchers said.
And early primary states tend to get an extra kick. New Hampshire benefited from $264 million in direct and indirect spending and the creation of 2,248 jobs in the year leading up to and including the 2000 primary, according to a University of New Hampshire report, the last year a comprehensive economic impact study on the state's primary was conducted.
The industries that get the biggest boost during primaries tend, of course, to be in hospitality services like restaurants and hotels. Others, including main street retailers or local printers who create ballots or other campaign materials, also may get something of a lift, says Timothy Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.
Entrepreneur Steve Duprey, a franchise owner of several hotels in and around Concord, says he receives a more modest revenue boost. Duprey, who is also the Republican National Committeeman for New Hampshire, says he's hosted about 50 presidential candidates in his hotels, including John McCain, John Kerry, and Bernie Sanders, since 1992. Overall, though, he says the lift from the primaries is pretty minimal. It amounts to a 5 percent increase in sales, but only for the month leading up to the primary.
Duprey adds that most campaigns tend to be extremely frugal in their spending, and this year he's enticing candidates with a special rate: $20.16 per night. More than money though, he says he, his 150 employees, and the rest of the state enjoy the excitement and insight they get through extended proximity to candidates.
That all changes after February.
"The candidates get to understand the problems of businesspeople and regular people, and it forces them to have essential discussions about the issues," Duprey says. "By the time the South Carolina primary is over, the candidates move to jet-hopping around the country."