The Cornell Orchards Store — a beloved retail destination for SnapDragon apples and Cornell-produced maple syrup — closed on Friday, igniting a heated backlash from Ithaca and alumni communities.
The 68-year-old institution shuttered its doors after “struggling financially” for many years, the University said in a press release on Tuesday. Revenues did not meet expenses and the orchards must reduce costs, Jan Nyrop, the Goichman Family Director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station told The Sun in a statement, writing that the financial situation was unchanged even after the Orchards Store moved to year-round operations in 2017 through a partnership with The Cornell Store and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“While closure is sudden to patrons and the community, we have intensely explored how we might operate the store without a very significant deficit,” Nyrop said. “We were unable to do so.”
Although the orchard’s administrators are considering options for seasonal retail apple sales for the upcoming harvest season, the current Orchards Store will not reopen because the retail model was “unsustainable.”
Shock and lament over the store’s closing quickly turned into action for Simon Ingall, a visual resources collections coordinator for Cornell University Library. Within hours of the announcement, Ingall posted an online petition to preserve the retailer — calling the store an Ithaca staple that has served as an educational center, community gathering spot and distributor of locally sourced goods.
“This store’s future should not be dependent upon making a profit for the University,” Ingall told The Sun in an email. “This is a very integral part of the community in Ithaca and Cornell; it will be a real shame if Cornell closes it.”
By Friday afternoon, the petition amassed more than 1,500 signatures from Ithacans, Cornell alumni and faculty. As of Sunday afternoon, it had over 2,400 supporters.
While the petition circulated online, others headed directly to social media to mourn the closing and criticize Cornell’s decision to indefinitely shut down the retail operation. The announcement generated comments on the Cornell Orchards Store Facebook page that spanned from “this is the saddest news I have heard in a long time” to “money is not everything.”
One of these commenters was Glenn Antizzo ’85, who told The Sun he was “crushed” when he heard the news.
Antizzo now lives in Jackson, Mississippi, but drives to Long Island, New York, for the holidays each year. He said he adds two extra days onto his annual trip to stop at the Cornell Orchards Store, purchasing eggnog and enough apple cider to sustain him until his next Ithaca visit.
“Cornell products are a huge part of my life and a huge part of my memories,” said Antizzo, who currently has Cornell apple cider in his home freezer. “It makes me feel a connection to the University, and I think it does the same for a lot of other people, [who] are feeling the same loss that I am.”
Visiting the Orchards Store is a tradition for many other alumni, he said, who stop there when they visit the school with their families. Antizzo added that Cornell’s apple and dairy products put the University “on the map.”
“They’re losing an opportunity to connect with the public,” he said.
Signatories similarly cited Cornell’s land-grant mission to connect with, educate and improve the lives of the public as a reason for signing. Other signatories reminisced about tasting experimental apple varieties and browsing the store as children.
What a week! Thank you all for supporting the petition I wrote. I am very happy to have delivered it today. I also went and visited the orchard store on my way home, hopefully not for the last time. pic.twitter.com/qwYpE3nIj2
— Simon Ingall (@simoningall) January 31, 2020
Ingall wrote that the Orchards Store had recently expanded its community outreach, with its annual fall apple bake-off to benefit United Way of Tompkins County, a non-profit that supports community education, financial stability and health. Even though the University said the orchards would maintain its outreach programs, Ingall expressed fear that the store’s closing would affect them.
But this is not the first time a Cornell retail operation has closed.
The animal science department used to run a retail meat store, selling beef, pork and lamb leftover from teaching and research activities. After more than 50 years, the retailer known as the “Cornell Meat Shop” closed in 1983 for financial reasons.
The meat shop’s closing put the jobs of two meat cutters on the line, while some community members urged the University to keep it open.
This time, Cornell is working to reassign the Orchards Store’s two full-time employees as well as seasonal workers to new roles on campus.
For those still looking to purchase Cornell’s famous apples, the orchards will continue to distribute them to wholesalers and conduct extensive horticulture research through the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, the organization that operates the orchards and whose research projects advance state agriculture. Despite the close, the orchards plans to keep on producing 210 tons of apples each year.
This post has been updated to include a statement from Jan Nyrop, the Goichman Family Director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.