Story by Shannon Hazlitt Harts
When Justin Boyette of Hector Wine Company opened a small specialty goods market in his tasting room, he didn’t know it would become a saving grace.
In March after COVID-19 struck the state, Boyette waited to hear if his winery would be considered an “essential service” or if it would have to shut down to visitors.
“There was that period of time when we didn’t know…when it looked like we were going to be closed,” he said.
He and his team had a backup plan in case that happened. Hector Wine Company already had licenses to sell products from local farmers and food producers and had done so in their tasting room since opening in 2010. But with a shutdown looming, Boyette and his team decided to add more products and create an opportunity for residents to access basic groceries during the pandemic.
Fortunately for all, wineries were considered an essential service and were allowed to stay open, but the Hector Wine Company team decided to press on with the plan to expand the marketplace.
And their decision resonated with the locals. Many Hector residents were surprised and relieved to find grocery products at the winery.
When other grocery stores were low on meat products such as chicken and ground beef, Boyette said they still had plenty of shipments coming in from Schrader Farms in Romulus. And customers were enthusiastic.
“We went from selling eight pounds of ground beef a week to selling 35 to 40 pounds on average in a week,” he said.
Locals have continued to stay aware of the products at the market even as COVID has had less impact on grocery store supplies.
“We have regulars who pay attention to the days when the meat order comes in from Schrader Farms or when fresh bread is delivered from Paradiso’s Village Bakery,” he said. “Really it went to show that local food products are sustainable and local small farms are sustainable in a community like this.”
Today they work with distributors Regional Access and Finger Lakes Artisan Foods to keep the shelves full, while many of the products in the stores are purchased directly from the producers that Boyette built relationships with, including Seneca Sunrise Coffee, Finger Lakes Wine Flour, Englebert Cheeses, TC’s Sauces, Muddy Fingers Farm and the Great Escape Ice Cream Company.
Boyette explained that having local food for sale in the tasting room is beneficial for business beyond basic profits.
“All of us that are part of the Hector Wine Company team believe that food and wine go together naturally,” he said. “So having all of these great products really shows the commitment to that. It gives our customers an opportunity to experiment with food products that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise or maybe introduce them to local products as an alternative to big box grocery store products.”
Plans for the market include expanding the selection of local, specialty products, and adding more cooler space to accommodate it. The winery keeps a full list of market items on their website and it is always growing.
“We are always looking for the next fun thing to bring in…the next nice product to introduce to customers,” he said.
Shannon Hazlitt Harts is a freelance writer and editor who also helps out in the tasting room of her family’s business, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards Winery. She grew up in Hector enjoying hiking the creeks near her house and baking countless pies with local peaches.