Reesors have lived and farmed in the Markham and Stouffville area since their arrival from Pennsylvania in 1804. Since then, many generations of their family have been growing and providing food for the region. Jay Reesor remembers his first farm marketing lessons as a child, picking sweet corn and then selling it at the side of our gravel road (see photo below).
“I began my own farm business career in 1984, five years after completing my crop science degree from the University of Guelph. In that year I had the opportunity to farm my Uncle Harold Heise’s farm at Leslie Street and Elgin Mills Road in Markham,” recalled Jay.
“In 1985 another small farm became available with a house, barn and 22 acres at Ninth Line and Elgin Mills Road. This is where our current farm market operates. In 1986 we built a very modest, little shed as a market to keep us out of the wind and dry from the rain. Over the years we have gradually added more space to our market,” said Jay.
In 1995 freshly baked bread and pies were introduced at their farm market. The baking component kept growing, which led to opening Reesor Farm Kitchen on Ringwood Dr. in Stouffville in 2004. “In addition to great baking, we also began to offer delicious tasting entrees as well, not just during the Reesor Farm Market’s summer season, but year-round,” recounted Jay. The little Kitchen grew and in 2013 they moved the retail store to 5758 Main Street, renaming it Reesor’s Market & Bakery, while retaining the bakery in Ringwood.
A Spring Surprise
Once the pandemic emerged in Canada, providers of food and groceries had to implement new protocols at a rapid pace. Simply being listed as an ‘Essential Business’ was only a small hurdle. “Everything began to change for us in mid-March. We began by requiring that all of our customers use hand sanitizer that we provided before they entered our store. From there it moved to physical distancing, enhanced sanitizing procedures, plexiglass screens at checkout, limited numbers of customers in the store, employee health checks, etc.,” said Jay.
Very early on Reesor’s closed their eat-in Café, but apart from that, they adjusted business on the fly as new information from Health Canada and York Region Public Health became available. “It felt like every day required us doing something different as a precautionary measure in these difficult times,” reported Jay. “Along with closely following the daily government briefings, we learned from other businesses and I’m assuming other businesses learned from us, good techniques to keep everyone safe. Our biggest adjustment was creating our online store (shopreesors.ca) so people could safely shop from home and then choose a store front pickup or home delivery option.”
More or less, Reesor’s has the same number of employees that they had pre-COVID-19. Some of their team had underlying personal health risks, so there were some temporary layoffs. “We look forward to having each of them back at some point in the not-toodistant future,” said Jay.
Reesor’s Market is one of the lucky few that can report a landlord that has been nothing but supportive. “I know that my landlord wants to be helpful if necessary and allowed us to do some extraordinary things in these extraordinary times. This included allowing us to park our big truck outside our store to be able to offer curbside pickup.”
They are also one of the few lucky businesses not to report losses. With in-store sales and new services such as delivery and curbside pickup, their sales are actually up. Jay reports that entree chefs have been kept really busy – customers want easy to prepare meals at home since dining in at our amazing local restaurants has not been possible. Reesor’s have not used any of the other government programs for relief, although they probably qualify.
Looking into his crystal ball, Jay said, “I don’t believe that we will go back to the old normal for a longtime. Personal distancing and extra care in public settings will remain the new normal. As a business we have to adapt to the new normal to keep all of our staff and our customers healthy.”
“These have been really extraordinary difficult times for many local businesses. Operations that thrive on bringing us together, like restaurants and coffee shops, businesses that help keep us active and fit, and those that provide the extras in life have been particularly hard hit. When you have to close your doors – how do you pay your rent and keep your employees? These are truly heartbreaking times for too many local businesses. I am optimistic that we will continue to keep our doors open as we all need to eat. We have also learned some new things and for the foreseeable future will continue to offer curbside pickup and delivery in our community through our online store, shopreesors.ca.”
Jay closed with, “I have had the good fortune of working with a lot of great people in our business during these crazy COVID times. All of our staff deserve a lot of credit for their extra hard work and dedication. But I would like to do a shout-out to our amazing kitchen staff. These wonderful people have worked really hard to keep themselves safe and our store supplied with the things that our customers need and want. They considered themselves family and committed to stay healthy and work together as a team every day, to provide bread, soups, entrees and salads for our community.”