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Vol. 112 - Issue 1, Wednesday, September 15, 2010
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Business

Fly Creek Cider Mill Opens for the season
By Richard Palmer

Over the years Fly Creek Cider Mill, which started as a hobby, has become a shining example of what one family has done to create a highly-successful and fun business, one that has grown to include between 30 and 35 full and part-time employees. It is owned and operated by Bill and Brenda Michaels.

R.S. Mercury
There’s fun for everyone at Fly Creek Cider Mill.  Here, youngsters sort out apples to take home.
Friday will kick off its 153rd season. Regular hours will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.,  daily. Activities will get underway this weekend with the  popular and  expanded “Taste of Fly Creek” series. This is an in-depth program focusing on the tasting of selected specialty foods in addition to the daily offering of more than 40 specialty food samples. The special curd tasting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Fly Creek Cider Mill is one of the family-owned and operated businesses in the region, with diversification and innovation being the key to its success. It is located at 288 Goose St. off Route 28 between Richfield Springs and Cooperstown.

Pioneer and entrepreneur Hosea Williams built the original cider mill to efficiently turn apples into sweet cider. Harnessing the power of Fly Creek, he used a turbine to run a grinder and water-hydraulic press.

This enterprise allowed local settlers to abandon their hand presses and take advantage of the new mill. They filled their barrels  at the mill and hauled them to their root cellars for fermentation and aging.  “That’s where the science of turning sweet cider into hard was each pioneer’s trade secret, well protected and seldom shared,” said current owner Bill Michaels.

To keep the mill operational all year, Williams diversified with a woodworking shop. The turbine powered a wood lathe, jig-saw and planer; he used the wood shavings to store and sell ice, and he added a grist mill to grind corn and wheat. Eight more mills sprung up in the valley providing a variety of services and products. But it was this operation that survived the passage of time, thanks to latter-day owner Linn Kane. He continued to operate it into the 1950s.

In 1962, Charlie and Barbara Michaels, a skilled craftsman and an art teacher, purchased the Mill property to transform the former miller’s residence into a modern home. Through hard work they brought the  mill back to its original state. A new orchard was planted. Friends helped truck in apples and the mill once again went into production. Barbara Michaels started retail sales with her art ware, doughnuts, apple bread, molasses crinkles, maple syrup and honey.

Over the years, sales increased so much that the Michaels realized with a little more effort, investment and marketing, their weekend hobby business could become a stand-alone source of income.  Retail space was added, the product mix was broadened ,and Barbara’s creative spirit was set free marketing the mill as a fall family attraction where “traditions are kept alive.”

The mill became just what they sought after – a fall family destination complete with entertainment, food service and fresh, sweet cider produced in a historic Mill with original equipment. With retirement looming and a successful fall operation in place, the Michaels were ready for the next generation to carry on. Their son Bill, experienced in the hospitality industry, and daughter-in-law Brenda, a graphic designer and interior architect, seemed well suited to the business and purchased the mill in 1999.

As eager young innovators in their own right, Brenda and Bill expanded the fall season into the summer tourist months and added hard-to-find specialty foods. They continued the tradition of reinvestment with installing modern restrooms, an interior stairway, cold-storage facilities. and an expanded restaurant and bakery. Programming included a full season of festivals and special events, plus exhibits throughout the Mill were improved.

They have continued another tradition of the past by becoming a New York State Farm Winery offering hard ciders and apple wines. Their promotion and marketing increased traffic exponentially, rendering the Mill a strong component of Otsego County’s tourism mix and a must-see destination.

For further information, go to www.flycreekcidermill.com or call 607-547-9292. 

 

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