(WXYZ) — September is here and with the weather beginning to cool off, cider mills are opening for the season.
Like so many other parts of like, cider mill operators are adjusting to the challenges presented by the pandemic to offer families a taste of autumn tradition balancing safety and the creation of new family memories.
Bill Erwin, the owner of Erwin's Orchards, showed us around the orchards that have been in his family for 101 years. He said despite the challenges, the crowds were large last year driven by quarantine fatigue.
"I'm hoping it was like last year, but I don't expect that. I think every last year everybody was pent up. They were tired of being clamped up and they were going to get out," Erwin said.
He still expecting a good year, but there are some changes. Outside, some COVID-19 precautions are gone, and long-time activities are back like the hay maze and other kids attractions. Inside, masking will be up to the customer. But other precautions remain like additional spacing and plexiglass barriers.
Each cider mill is taking their own approach. Yates Cider Mills in Rochester lists precautions on their website like employee COVID-19 screening, register spacing and extra cleaning.
In Armada, we checked in with Blake's Orchard & Cider Mill. They've had to figure out how to spread out crowds over their 500 acres.
The investment in a new taproom, larger patio and express checkout will come in handy again starting this weekend
"Saturdays and Sundays, I believe that we will be starting from mid-September until Halloween will be full of capacity. Almost," Paul Blake said.
Another challenge for cider mills statewide is a smaller apple crop due to a April frost.
The Michigan Apple Committee estimates a harvest of 18.3 million bushels this year, down from 22 million last year.
Erwin says Michigan will still have a healthy crop of apples, but some varieties may be harder to find. But the hot summer offers a bonus to consumers.
"Things are going to be early in a way that's good for the people. When they come out, they're going to get a sweeter tasting fruit," Erwin said.
Erwin is actually closed on Monday because they just don't have enough staff, and they don't have all of the kids activities open because they need more people. They are hiring 16 and older. If you want to join the team you can they're paying up to $15 an hour.