STONINGTON — Amy Harrison rushed from behind the counter, down to the basement and out to the ramp at B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill in Mystic on Wednesday. She restocked the shelves, then darted back behind the counter as a line of customers weaved through the newly arranged aisles, perusing the shelves throughout the store, and cars funneled into the parking lot hoping to find a spot — many to no avail.
In most ways, it was just another fall day for Harrison, a fifth-generation owner of Clyde’s, a fall staple for locals and a popular destination for tourists and leaf-peepers. But this was the beginning of the first fall season in the time of the coronavirus, and Harrison hoped she could bring a sense of normalcy for customers.
“It means a lot to us to be able to keep something (customers) do every year and still be able to come back and do it almost the same way,” Harrison said.
The experience of visitors to the oldest steam-powered cider mill in the country has changed a bit this season to account for COVID-19 regulations. Rather than having two lines on each side of the store, there is now only one entrance. The line is directed by a maze of shelves that lead customers to the registers.
The shelves wind through the store and have all of Clydes’ products on them so people can shop as they wait. Harrison said some customers prefer the new system, as it is less confusing.
Tastings of their hard ciders and apple wines have moved to a tent outside rather than in the traditional Clyde’s Tasting Room setting.
The cider mill itself is open, but no one is allowed inside. The windows and doors are being left open so people can look inside and ask questions.
And of course, social distancing and masks are required at all times.
With all of the changes, there is one aspect of Clyde’s that is similar to past summers: It’s busy.
“It’s actually been a lot busier than we expected," Harrison said. "Everybody knows how it is around here ... it gets crowded. We figured people would hold back, not wanting to come around the crowds."
The throngs of people have not interfered with the enforcement of the new guidelines — at least not yet.
“So far, 99% of the customers have been respectful and stay away — you know, social distancing. They wear their masks and no one has really complained too much,” Harrison said.
Customers, she said, have been grateful for Clyde’s being able to open again this summer, especially the locals.
“They’re happy that we’re open,” Harrison said. “We love our tourists, but our locals are the ones that keep us going.”
On Wednesday, families sat at socially distanced tables dotting the Clyde's Cider Mill property with cider in their cups, donuts in their hands and smiles on their faces.
Live music can still be heard on Saturdays and Sundays, and local vendors are still bringing a variety of products — from honey and syrup to dog treats and beef jerky — to sell on weekends.
Providing an outlet for the community was important for Harrison. She knows Clyde’s has been a fall tradition for many families, and she wants to make sure this year is no different.
“We just want it to be a step away to take a breather and relax,” Harrison said. “That’s been our goal, and we hope to continue that for people in this stressful time.”