GREAT BARRINGTON — Outside a bustling Taft Farms on a warm Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, owner Dan Tawczynski said he is moved by the community's outpouring of support after the state shut down an unsafe bridge on the direct route to his business. It's taken a hard cut to his profits during what is his busiest season.
A local ministry raised money, for instance, to buy a newspaper ad so that more residents and businesses would flock to the Park Street farm store for pies and prepared food, and for wreath and Christmas tree shopping.
But the everyday customer who pops in on the way to and from work is no more, unless they are willing to take the time to "go around" the bridge and use another route to get to Taft Farms.
"Talk about a perfect storm," Tawczynski said.
Tawczynski, who has owned Taft for 65 years, said ice fishermen are some of the only people who won't let the closed Division Street bridge stop them from making the long detours to get here.
"Bait fish," Tawczynski said — bait fish being of one of Taft's specialties. "Ice fisherman are a different breed. When they want to go fishing, a bridge being out — that doesn't bother them. They'll go around."
Tawczynski laughed. But it is this "going around" business that has aggravated the whole town and even rippled into other communities after the state ordered the bridge closed Sept. 5 for a structural failure that makes it unsafe. It is the second bridge in town in a year to be closed because of disrepair from decades of neglect.
Adding to the woes, next summer, the supports under the Brown Bridge north of downtown will be reinforced, reducing it to one lane at times.
But, it is the bridge shutdown on the east/west Division Street artery that has driven a wedge between Taft Farms and a the regular stream of customers who pop in for the famous cider doughnuts and coffee, a sandwich to take to work, or prepared food for dinner on their way home. It also put a 9-mile detour between Tawczynski and his pumpkin patch during his busiest season leading up to Halloween. He was so frustrated that he considered squeezing his forklift with a pallet into the bike lane to cross the bridge. But he restrained himself.
"I didn't want to start any trouble," he said.
Tawczynski has pleaded with town officials: install a temporary bridge, use his land however they need — anything. All to no avail. Permitting around the Housatonic River is strict, and a new or repaired bridge will take about three years to complete.
This doesn't calculate well in Taft's books.
"I showed Danny the numbers, and we can last about a year and a half and then we're done," said Pennie Curry, Taft's longtime bookkeeper. Curry also oversees the massive Christmas greenery operation, in which a wreath has to be made every six minutes to keep up with orders, according to Tawczynski.
Curry is now behind the bakery counter, fielding a steady stream of what eventually will be 1,000 pie sales. She attributes the 38 percent dive in earnings since the bridge closed to a loss of workers who make pit stops here. In the winter, the deli pumps in 75 percent of Taft's total profits.
"That's a big hit," she said.
Martha Donovan agrees. The Sheffield-based garden designer and Taft loyalist had "deliberately" made a detour so she could stop in for something to eat while picking up holiday supplies for her clients.
She is not alone. Along with The Red Lion Inn and the "half of Stockbridge" that Taft decorates, other local institutions with healthy Christmas budgets placed orders, Curry said. Fairview Hospital alone ordered 435 wreaths as gifts for its employees.
And it was this that, in turn, gave Curry money to make deposits for the best fresh-cut greens and trees.
Others want to see to it that all this gets sold.
Leigh Merlini, of Richmond, orchestrated $90 in donations from fellow congregants at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire in Housatonic, and walked into the Shopper's Guide to place an ad to ask residents to shop at Taft for the holidays. (The Shopper's Guide is owned by the same parent company that owns The Berkshire Eagle.)
Brad Spear, the general manager of the Shopper's Guide, was so moved by the gesture that he added color, expanded the size of the ad and added two weeks to the run time.
"I was just so taken," he said.
So was Merlini. She sent him a handwritten thank you note.
"It was just very generous and very touching," she said.
But Spear said it is Taft's turn to accept help.
"It says an awful lot about Taft, that they have been so kind and generous to the community in the past that people have not forgotten that," he said.
It's still happening. Taft, for instance, partners with Grace Church in Great Barrington for the nonprofit Gideon's Garden, for which students grow on some of Tawczynski's land and supply four food pantries with produce.
Curry said that a lot of love and concern is flowing between Taft and the families who, for generations, have placed Christmas orders.
"We share stories, good and bad," she said.
And Tawczynski knows best how generosity can take unexpected turns. In 1996, he went to Siberia to help fellow farmers and realized that he had learned more from them.
"I left and thought, `Did I give them enough?'" he recalled. "That exchange is priceless."
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.