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Andriatch: Ah, autumn pilgrimages to Mayer's

The Western New York pessimist sees the calendar turn from summer to fall and thinks about closing the storm windows, turning on the furnace and dreading the cold, gray inevitability that awaits.
The Western New York optimist doesn't care about any of that because if it's autumn - or nearly autumn - it's time to go to Mayer Brothers.
How else to account for the hours-long parade of cars Saturday afternoon at Transit and Seneca Creek roads in West Seneca and the smiles on the faces of the people who emerged from the Mayer Brothers store bearing everything from doughnuts and pies to hard cider and apple cider slushies?
From shortly after Thanksgiving until halfway through August, Mayer Brothers is largely a juice-making and water-bottling operation, pressing apples and other fruits into beverages that bear the family name, in West Seneca and in Barker. But when the leaves start to turn, the Mayer Brothers Cider Mill store opens, and people come to enjoy how the Mayers have labored over fruits.
"I'm here religiously," Katie Santoro, of the Town of Tonawanda, said after emerging from the store Saturday afternoon with an apple cider slushie. "I love this place. It's just so old-fashioned."
No argument here. With an interior that is clearly meant to remind you of a general store - if the general store you remember also smelled like a bakery - it's no wonder that Mayer Brothers is the destination for many autumnal pilgrimages.
Florian Kuchera was visiting the area from Binghamton and said he usually makes it out here every year for apple pies and hard cider. The two six-packs in his hands confirmed it.
Frank Dana and Debbie Schiavone were in from Bethany, southeast of Batavia, for a day trip that would culminate with a trip to Lewiston and a ghost walk later in the evening. Dana had picked up some cider that he was planning to use for mulled cider, and both were looking forward to biting into some of the doughnuts that are made on site.
"We'll definitely be back," Schiavone said.
Mayer Brothers got its start in 1852, when Jacob Mayer opened his cider mill on the spot where the current operation stands. At the time, the business existed to take in apples from area farmers and turn them into cider. He then passed the business on to his son John, who returned the favor in 1938 to his boys, Earl, Elmer and Allen. Today, Allen's son John runs the company, making him the fourth-generation Mayer to be the king of the mill.
The family tradition shows no signs of slowing. Two of John's sons, Garrett and Eric, are vice presidents of the company that employs more than 200.
"It runs in my veins," Garrett Mayer said Monday. "It's what we do."
During an interview inside the store, while trying not to get in the way of a persistent stream of customers, Mayer said the dire predictions we heard about the apple crop in New York this year came true, which accounts for the $2-per-gallon-higher price you will pay for cider this fall at Mayer Brothers and elsewhere. He said he expects a hit to company profits this year, as well.
But because Mayer Brothers is about much more than apples, the hit to the bottom line won't be as dramatic as you might think. The lion's share of the company's business is private-label manufacturing of water, cider and juice, for such clients as Tops and Wegmans.
None of that seemed to have any effect on the enduring lovefest between Mayer Brothers and its customers. The only thing in shorter supply this fall than apples might be weekend parking spaces near the cider mill store.
What is good news for the Mayers and their customers is the mix of people seen entering and leaving the store. There are as many students and young couples as there are retirees, which seems to bode well for the future.
Part of the reason for the crowds is pent-up demand. The store opened for the season a month ago and will remain that way only until just after Thanksgiving. The simple reason is that once the summer ends, something inside us seems to go off, and we can't wait to get our hands - and our taste buds - on apple cider. But as soon as Thanksgiving comes and goes, so does the craving. (Maybe we switch into eggnog mode?)
This year, the store held a soft opening in mid-August, promoted via social media, and the crowds arrived on cue.
"We've tried a little earlier and a little earlier every year," Mayer said. "That will probably continue until we see that we don't have enough business to justify doing it. You need to be busy, or you might as well close."
For years, Mayer Brothers had a great way to introduce new customers to its products: offering tours of the mill to students and others. Legions of adults who grew up in the Southtowns remember taking a field trip to Mayer Brothers. But the tours ended about 20 years ago because of concern about handicapped accessibility and maintaining quality standards in the product preparation.
If the end of the tours is having an impact on the business, it's not visible. But what anyone can see is a 160-year-old business that continues to thrive and grow.
"We're trying to give people an experience," Mayer said. "They may have had the experience when they were kids, and now they're passing it on to their children and grandchildren. I think that's what people want. And we want to give it to them."