November 30, 2021

Hollenbeck’s reopening

Grab your mask and come on inside this Saturday

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill will open for the season Saturday. For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it will allow customers inside rather than operating as a drive-through. However, customers will need to be masked.

Customers will be invited inside Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill in Virgil for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday, but masks will still be required.

Founded in 1933, the opening of Hollenbeck’s is synonymous with the start of fall for many Cortland County residents. Hollenbeck’s is celebrating its 89th season by opening its doors to the public again, a step toward normalcy after last year’s COVID-19-inspired need to go to drive-through pick-up.

“To not have people in the building last year, I felt very disconnected,” said owner Matt Hollenbeck. “I’m looking forward to the business and having that community connection and social aspect. In the past, there were people who came every Saturday and I’d catch up with them each week all season long. When we did the drive-through, I was inside pressing cider, so I didn’t get to see anybody.”

The cider mill will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Matt Hollenbeck said he may begin closing earlier than 8 p.m. if customers don’t come that late, and he already plans to close earlier after Halloween.

He hopes to someday fully reopen the cider mill, but for now, he’s taking extra precautions against the coronavirus. Although the drive-through is a thing of the past, Hollenbeck’s is requiring every visitor to wear a face mask in the store, regardless of vaccination status.

“It can be a crowded place in the fall, so to protect our staff, customers and community members, we’re going to err on the side of caution,” Matt Hollenbeck said. There will be plastic barriers at the cashier counters and new air filters have been installed throughout the building.”

Now, people are welcome inside to watch him press cider and chat from across the counter. However, following recent guidance from the state Agriculture and Markets Department, Hollenbeck’s will not offer samples this year.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s what our regulatory agency tells us to do,” Hollenbeck said. “No cider samples is a big disappointment, since we’re having people back inside, but I think that this will be more of a return to what people remember about us — a return to normalcy.”

People will get to watch the staff make doughnuts, pies and cider from scratch, but they’ll have to wait until after checkout before they can taste them.

“There’s something about seeing the apple, watching the press, and then tasting the juice only a few minutes later. There’s a little bit of magic there,” Hollenbeck said.

Although he’s disappointed there won’t be any cider samples this year, Hollenbeck is looking forward to inviting the community into the cider mill and chatting with customers he hasn’t seen in nearly two years.

“I’m excited for people to come back, and see at least the top half of their faces,” he said.