After 88 seasons of pressing apples and dishing out piping-hot donuts, Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill, in Virgil, New York, thought they had seen it all; then the pandemic hit. For the first time in its history, customers will not be allowed inside to watch the Mill’s famous cider press in action. Instead, Hollenbeck’s will be operating exclusively on a drive through and curbside pick up model.
Matt Hollenbeck, the 4th generation owner of the Mill, said while the decision to close off the inside was difficult, the new model will allow for greater safety for customers and staff.
“In the fall, it's wall to wall people,” he said. “There was no way we could be anything remotely close to normal so we went for the way that we could provide the most to the many.”
In a normal season, the Mill’s main attraction is it’s long-standing cider press, which pumps fresh cider right into eager customers’ awaiting cups.With the drive-thru model, the usual experience is no longer possible, a fact that pains Hollenbeck.
“The hardest thing that I have never had to do with this business is not let people in,” he said. “A lot of my earliest memories are watching cider being pressed here and the fact that a generation of kids are missing a year of that is disheartening.”
Still, Hollenbeck’s is adapting, adding an online store to their website and partnering with the Cortland Standard to do virtual showings of the cider and donut-making process.
“We're trying to use technology to let people have that experience … I hope it is an acceptable substitute for these peculiar times,” he said.
Hollenbeck’s isn't the only seasonal business who’s had to adapt to COVID. Littletree Orchards in Newfield decided to delay their typical August opening to Labor Day and have closed off their usual picnic areas.
“It's an ever evolving process,” said Amara Steinkraus, orchard manager. “We’re all recognizing that we're in this difficult boat and we’re trying to figure out any way to make it work and give people the experience of being able to come to the farm.”
With 40 acres of orchards, Amara said the u-pick model makes it much easier to socially distance while still having fun.
“I think people are by and large really happy to have a place where they can go and do something outside with their family and still feel safe,” she said.
Stephen Cummins, owner of Indian Creek Farm in Ithaca, agrees.
“You’ve got 40 acres to spread out on versus a grocery store that has an acre, so you've got plenty of space, he said. “If anything our business has gone up substantially because of COVID.”
Unlike Hollenbeck’s and Littletree, Indian Creek has been open since strawberry season, in June, giving the farm more time to adapt.
“We’re pros at it by now,” Cummins said. “When we saw the response for strawberries, we knew we were going to be busy this year.”
Cummins has adapted similar policies of masks and social distancing and attributes much of his continued success to the people of Ithaca.
“We’re fortunate to be here in Tompkins County which is kind of a bubble unto itself,” he said. “People here care and as a result, businesses like ours are thriving.”
“We continue to feel really blessed with where we live.” Steinkraus added. “There is so much local agriculture and there are so many people that recognize the benefits for the community/ The fact that we're still able to open and people are still coming and supporting is something to be really grateful for.”