Local maple syrup producers say they hope to close a revenue gap created by cancellation of this weekend’s Maine Maple Sunday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott Dunn, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, said producers will feel a massive financial hit from the closure because many do much of their business for the year this weekend.

“It’s a devastating impact,” he said. “Producers make 50% of their annual sales or more on Maple Sunday Weekend.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention reported Sunday there were 89 cases of coronavirus statewide. An increasing number of cases prompted Gov. Janet Mills last Wednesday to recommended canceling all social gatherings of more than 10 people.

Mike Smith, owner of Mike’s Maple House in Winthrop, was open for product sales Sunday, but all other festivities were canceled. He said he was trying to keep his distance from customers, but some were presenting challenges.

Mike Smith of Winthrop, left, explains to guest Michael Brown, also of Winthrop, how the evaporator works at his sugar shack. Brown was one of several visitors to the Smith operation on Maple Syrup Sunday.

“I got one big hug from a woman,” he said. “I was a little nervous. Her husband was standing right behind her. He was a big boy.”

Smith said he has underlying health issues, so he is taking the outbreak seriously despite inviting people to his property.

“I’m trying to stay on one side of the evaporator,” he said, adding that about 15 guests had come through by about 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Robert Johanson, co-owner of Goranson Farm in Dresden, said his farm’s event, which includes tours and live music and draws about 1,400 people, was cancelled.

“It’s a pretty serious cash flow whack,” he said. “We sell around 80 gallons of syrup that day. That’s upwards of 25% of our crop.”

Johanson said the event reconnects customers with the farm for the summer. In response, the farm is attending three farmers’ markets and keeping its farm stand open seven days a week to help recoup some of the lost revenue.

Johanson said his farm stand has taken some other precautions to reduce money handling for workers and customers, including stations for washing hands. He said workers will prepackage products for customers and all items are priced to the nearest dollar.

Shelley Bacon, co-owner of Sidney’s Bacon Farm Maple Products, said she was remaining optimistic through the outbreak. She said the farm has a drive-thru window that allows people to pick up their online or telephone orders while still maintaining a social distance.

“We’re making it easier for people to get their maple stuff,” he said. “The only thing we can’t do is let them into our processing area, like we did in the past.”

Bacon said the demand for maple syrup will still be there as families will be home from school and craving “the good stuff” for their pancakes. She said Saturday she was expecting a healthy business Sunday, despite events being canceled.

“With the response we’re getting on Facebook, I suspect it’s going to be busy,” she said. “I would say because this weekend is a third of our income for the year, we’ll see a drop, but I think we’re going to make it up on the other end.”

Ben Marcus, owner of Uncas Farm and Sheepscot General Store in Whitefield, said Maple Maple Sunday is usually “total mayhem.”

“I was thinking back to every year we’ve been open and what it’s been like,” he said. “It’s one of our biggest days of the year.”

Most maple syrup operations, such as Dead Stream Farm Maple in Readfield, were closed to visitors on Maple Syrup Sunday due to the coronavirus pandemic. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Marcus said the store will take a hit on the sale of food during the Maine Maple Sunday festivities, but he was not worried about selling all of his syrup. He said the market will likely be forgiving on syrup because it does not go bad.

“We’ll definitely sell all of our syrup,” he said. “It’s going to be thousands of dollars, but it’s not going to make or break our business.”

Dunn said Maine Maple Sunday will likely be held another time, but he had no idea when.

“The plan is to do something,” Dunn said. “We don’t know when this virus is going to be out of everyones’ mind.”

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