PORTVILLE — A landmark of autumn for the region will not open its doors this year.
Cummins Cider Mill, a fixture on Route 417 near the Allegany-Cattaraugus county border, will not be opening for the season this year, said long-time owner Donald Leilous.
“I apologize to everybody,” he told the Times Herald on Wednesday. “It’s a great, great business.”
The rumor mill began working overtime when a sign went up at the site about three weeks ago stating the store would be closed for the season. While many had some truth to them, others like converting it into a year-round business are unfounded.
Staffing was the number one concern, Leilous said.
“We’re just struggling with help every year,” he said, adding the facility needs three shifts of workers to operate from the early morning doughnut-making hours until after dark.
Some of his long-time employees are having health problems, he said, and it’s been a struggle to find reliable, good employees for the seasonal work.
“Then you don’t have anyone to fill those jobs,” he said. “Every business person around has the same thing today — help, help, help.”
However, there are a few other factors at play, he added, including his need to take a break from the hectic workload associated with the popular operation.
“It’s I either take the year off, or I end up in the ground,” he lamented. “It’s always been open — this is the first year it hasn’t opened.”
The shop has been a fixture since 1958, but the Cummins name in cider dates back to the Great Depression.
In 1932, Verne Cummins began selling his homemade cider door-to-door in Salamanca. As his cider became more popular and demand went up, Cummins opened his first cider mill in Allegany in 1936. He produced cider there for a decade before taking a 12-year break. In 1958, he jumped back in, setting up the cider mill at its current location. He sold the site in the mid-1980s. It was 15 years later that Leilous entered the picture, buying from Connie Nowak.
The shop celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2018, with Leilous, who also operates Southern Tier Polaris in Westons Mills, heading the operation for 16 of those seasons.
“I love cider better than anything,” he said, adding he takes pride in balancing out batches for the right mix of sweetness and acidity, as well as getting doughnuts through production. “I just love running that.”
Historically, the business has operated from the first week of September until Thanksgiving — when apples are coming off the trees on the fruit-bearing plains along Lake Ontario, where the cider mill sources its apples. Sporting fresh cider and 30-plus varieties of doughnuts, the site is a popular attraction for passing commuters and even out of town visitors who swing out of their way to get their sugary fix. The bakers can be called on to create more than 10,000 doughnuts a day, with the traditional cider doughnuts and apple fritters being the most popular.
The building won’t be sitting quiet, though. New paint and other upgrades are in store, Leilous said.
“I have all intentions of letting it rip next year,” he said. “I plan to be there next year — bigger and stronger than ever.”