Donuts and apple cider at Meck­ley’s Farm. They are expe­ri­encing one of their best business years to date. Courtesy | Lindsay Meckle

Meckley’s Fruit Farm in Cement City village may be one of few busi­nesses dou­bling its profits during the pan­demic.

“We’ve crushed any pre­vious year by over double,” owner Steve Meckley said.

When Meckley’s parents pur­chased the farm in 1956, their mission was to provide a gath­ering place for people. Meckley bought the business from them in 2012, and has been staying true to the family motto of “her­itage and tra­dition.”

“We have four gen­er­a­tions of cus­tomers,” Meckley said. “Great-grand­parents are bringing their children and grand­children and great-grand­children to the farm.”

The farm added a brewery in August 2019 to allow the business to stay open year-round, Meckley said. Pre­vi­ously, it closed after Christmas and reopened in the spring, but this caused many employees to leave.

“We were losing really ter­rific people from our staff because they just had no other option, so we decided to put in the brewery,” Meckley said.  “And little did we know six months later we would be in the middle of a worldwide pan­demic.”

At the onset of COVID-19, Meckley met with his staff and asked for input.

“Unan­i­mously, everybody said ‘You know what, let’s try it. Let’s see how it goes and see what the response from our cus­tomers is and let’s just try it,’” Meckley said.

The first two weeks of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order were very dif­ficult, Meckley said. The farm had no online ordering system and had to add staff just to answer the phones. Finding ways to do con­tactless payment and curbside pickup was also new to the staff.

Employee Marilyn Eicher said because many other stores closed, the farm became very busy.

“I love working with people and answering their ques­tions,” Eicher said. “But talking to people with masks on makes it very dif­ficult to under­stand some­times.”

Meckley and his family came together to find solu­tions. His wife, Adrienne, developed a new website for the farm which allowed people to choose the items they want and pay securely online instead of over the phone. His daughter Lindsay works to reach cus­tomers through social media.

“It’s pretty pow­erful when you can reach into some­body’s home and motivate them through a picture or a short video to get out of the house and drive here,” Meckley said. “We are a des­ti­nation.”

Lindsay used the online presence to overcome the chal­lenge of supply shortages.

Meckley said he was used to ordering mul­tiple pallets of glass, half-gallon con­tainers for his cider and beer and having them delivered in two weeks. When he was limited to one pallet and given a six-week shipping time, he knew he had to get cre­ative.

Reaching out to cus­tomers through social media, they were able to exchange glass con­tainers, properly san­itize, and reuse them.

The national coin shortage also forced the business to adapt. Meckley said he asked his employees to bring in any jars of loose change they had around their house. The farm adjusted their prices to whole dollars, which allowed them to con­tinue accepting cash when other stores went to card-only pay­ments.

Ordinary expenses, such as toilet paper and gloves, sky-rocketed, Meckley said.

“Gloves went from 12 cents a pair to 38 cents a pair. And how many times in a given shift is somebody changing their gloves?” Meckley said. “I spent $2,000 just on gloves.”

Outdoor seating and take-out options have allowed people to social dis­tance, and Meckley said he’s looking into winter seating options.

“In the winter we’ve talked about igloos, we’ve talked about yurts or tents to create a Mon­golian basecamp,” Meckley said.

Cus­tomers Jo and George Chizmar said they’ve enjoyed going to Meckley’s over the years and have been impressed by how well the farm has handled the pan­demic.

“It keeps growing and diver­si­fying,” Jo Chizmar said. “They’re focused on clean­liness and are very family-ori­ented.”

Meckley said adapting allowed his business to succeed, and he is sad for other owners who were forced to close their busi­nesses this year.

“I think there are people that work their entire lives — and this is what I think a lot of politi­cians don’t under­stand and unfor­tu­nately some parts of the general public don’t under­stand — is what it takes to run a business,” Meckley said. “It’s sac­rifice and hard work, there’s no sub­stitute for those.”

Meeting mask man­dates and addi­tional health pro­tocols was a chal­lenge, but Meckley said he wanted to do every­thing pos­sible to stay open and make his cus­tomers feel welcome.

“Cus­tomers are looking for some­thing simple to do to make them­selves feel normal,” Meckley said. “We’re going to give everybody just a taste. If a doughnut or a cup of coffee makes you feel normal, then no problem. That’s what our whole goal was.”