HOLLENBACK TOWNSHIP, Pa. — When the Rinehimer family opened a farm market on Feb. 9, business was brisk.
Weeks later, as concern mounted over coronavirus, it boomed.
The Market at Rinehimer Farms — built inside the Luzerne County barn where the Rinehimers used to milk cows — offers beef, pork, chicken and eggs right from the farm, in addition to baked goods and other local products.
On March 14, when the number of coronavirus cases in the state climbed to 45, the Rinehimers had their busiest sales day to date. On Monday, a day after a positive coronavirus case turned up in Luzerne County, things were again busier than normal.
Gary Rinehimer, who operates the market with his wife, Randi, attributed much of the spike in business to the fact that grocery stores in the area were selling out of food.
But that wasn’t the only reason.
“I had a customer that said this is how they should be buying their food all the time — locally,” Gary said. “I think the concern over the coronavirus has changed the way people think about where their food comes from.”
The growing sales also reaffirmed the Rinehimers’ decision to take on the risk of opening the market. The farm used to be a family dairy before they transitioned to raising replacement heifers and then grass-fed Angus, followed by the market.
Aside from honey, cheese and other items produced by other local businesses, the Rinehimers raise all of the beef, pork and chicken sold at the market.
Meeting demand is a challenge, Gary said, especially with the market being relatively new. Customers determined to stock up while waiting out the coronavirus make it even more difficult for the Rinehimers to predict how much inventory they need.
“We sold 42 dozen eggs on Saturday. I was running to the chicken coop getting more eggs out of the nesting boxes, and we sold all we had. We also ran out of certain cuts of beef and skinless chicken breasts,” he said. “People were definitely spending more on meat and eggs.”
The Rinehimers quickly found themselves in the same situation as big grocery stores, but replenishing stock at a small farm market isn’t quite as easy.
Since every steer and hog is raised on site and processed by a nearby butcher, the supplies of certain meat items are limited. Many of the beef cuts were sold out, and the kielbasa made from two hogs that were recently butchered was also gone.
“That’s the hardest part. You don’t know what to expect and you can’t keep everything in stock,” Gary said. “You only get so many Delmonicos from a steer.”
Most of the market’s customers are local, but Gary said there are more traveling from other areas to buy meat right from the farm. Since Gary and Randi have other jobs in addition to their farmwork, the market has limited hours of operation. However, the customer demand resulting from the threat of the virus and subsequent shutdown of nonessential businesses in the state has the Rinehimers rethinking their hours, at least temporarily.
“Many people are asking if we’re going to be open during the week while everything is closed down,” Gary said. “The current situation sure hasn’t impacted our business adversely.”
Even before concerns about the coronavirus triggered a jump in sales, the Rinehimers were planning to expand the market. They have more grass-fed steers on pasture, there is space in an outdoor pen to raise more hogs, and laying hens hatched last fall are nearly ready to contribute to the farm’s egg production.
Gary said he has also learned that meat chickens sell fast, so he has gotten into the routine of ordering more chicks as soon as one batch leaves the brooder.
“Hopefully people are a little patient with some things and we can supply the demand,” Gary said. “It’s a good problem to have.”