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‘Still Alive’

Syrup Producers Find Success In Pandemic

Christina and Tom DeGolier run DeGolier’s Maple Product in Forestville.

Since 2000, Maple Weekend has been a prime source of publicity and revenue for maple syrup producers all across New York state. This year, however, the event won’t happen during its normal March weekend.

“Our top priority this year is keeping people safe,” said Greg Zimpfer of Zimpfer Maple in Attica, a co-founder of Maple Weekend. “But producers are still making syrup and other products, so they can explain how people can buy them.”

While some of the maple houses, especially the bigger ones, will remain open for tours, the smaller ones will have to figure out how to do business for this coming weekend. But, unlike some businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the maple business has been able to survive and adapt to the ever changing climate.

“We’re still alive,” said Paul Lefeske, owner of Maple Glen Sugar House in Gowanda. “Fortunately we’ve been able to stay open and sell products. We haven’t been as affected as some of the businesses.”

Lefeske said that sales at Maple Glen have still been going strong, especially last summer’s farmers market, and the online sales have been booming for him. The store they have on the property is also open 9 to 5 daily.

“We have the store on our property that people stop at all year long,” Lefeske said. “I’m not complaining about sales. We’ve been going like crazy to keep ahead of the sap rush.”

Lefeske said that a lot of the struggles the maple industry faces is actually from the suppliers of the accessories that go along with syrup, such as bottles, jugs, glass, and other supplies. As a lot of production places have had to readjust how they work, production of those goods has slowed down.

“Some issues we and some of the other producers have dealt with are getting different products related to maple business,” Lefeske said. “Things like that have been delayed. Some companies just like the jug company may not have the help back in full force to keep up with orders. On top of that, across the maple belt if people have been selling more syrup, it’s in higher demand.”

Despite these setbacks, Lefeske has been working hard to keep his production up. Despite not having Maple Weekend occur at its scheduled time, he held tours of the facility last week, and plans to do so this weekend and next should people want to see the place.

“We just don’t have all of our sample bars set up, tractor rides, if people want to stop in and get a tour, I’m more than happy to show them around.”

The postponement of Maple Weekend doesn’t affect Christina and Tom DeGolier of DeGolier’s Maple Products in Forestville, as they don’t participate in the event anyway, so for them the postponement is really business as usual. And the business for them has been more than just surviving. It’s been booming.

“Sales have been through the roof,” Christina DeGolier said.

Degolier’s theory as to why sales have been going so well is actually related to the pandemic. She thinks that because so many people have had to stay home, they’re cooking their own food more, which would include breakfast for the kids. In addition to that, the Fredonia Farmers Market, where the Degoliers are every Saturday, has also been very busy. And despite taking a couple week hiatus at the start of the pandemic, being an essential business let the DeGoliers set back up quickly.

“At first we didn’t think we were essential,” DeGolier said. “When the pandemic first started, we decided not to go to the market, but customers started asking where we were, so we started going again. It was only a couple week’s break, and I didn’t think we qualified as essential but we did.”

The Degoliers have been following all of the necessary COVID-19 regulations, while keeping their Forestville store open for business for people to come in and out. And to help mitigate the problem with accessories that Lefeske faced, the DeGoliers have started using a refill system.

“We sell glass decanters full of syrup,” DeGolier said. “People can bring them back for a refill for a lower price, and that has worked out fabulously. People come in to get their jugs refilled, and my husband has bought little soda kegs and a little compressor. It’s cut down on the containers we have to buy.”

There is initial discussion that the postponed festival will take place in May, but the local maple providers have been finding a good amount of success, even without the festival taking place as scheduled.

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