Winery follows tested formula but future still uncertain

Carl Helrich enjoys a glass of wine among the barrels at Allegro Winery in Chanceford Township, York County. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Carl Helrich took over Allegro Winery on Sept. 10, 2001. Family and hard work got him through the economic contraction that followed the terrorist attacks the very next day.

He has been having flashbacks to those rocky times as he leans on a similar formula to get through the Covid-19 pandemic, which is likely to knock the U.S. into a recession.

Allegro has seen a spike in online sales and has been making curbside sales at its main winery and two other retail locations in York County. The winery, based in Chanceford Township, York County, also has been active on Facebook. But it decided to close its stands at three area farmers markets and in Strasburg, Lancaster County.

Allegro also has lost business due to the indefinite shutdown of state liquor stores, which began March 17, Helrich said in an interview.  “If that dries up for an extended period of time, that’s going to hurt. That’s what I’m worried about right now,”

Helrich said he was planning to apply for a loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration – and expects his business will need it. In the meantime, Allegro is benefiting from moves it made before the coronavirus struck.

After a lot of hard work and creative thinking, Allegro this year is rolling out its first-ever products for sale at beer distributors, which are staying open. The products are based on Allegro’s existing wines and come in 750 milliliter bottles. But they have lower alcohol content and are technically considered fermented fruit beverages, thus meeting PLCB regulations.

The winery also is seeing bigger orders from grocery stores, which are one of the places people can still buy wine, Helrich said. “There’s a demand out there,” he said.

Like other companies, Allegro also is finding ways to help. The company has an unused 10,000-square-foot warehouse near Stewartstown that it is willing to donate to whatever relief needs arise, Helrich said.

Despite the positives, he worries about his small staff of 11 full-timers. He said he regularly checks in with employees to see if they are still comfortable coming into work.

“So far, all full-time staff are right there with us,” Helrich said, though he has had to cut hours for retail workers.

Also on his mind is the future of small businesses idled by state-ordered shutdowns. Bars and restaurants are struggling, even if they somehow remain open. So are barbershops, hair salons and other businesses that had to close because they are not “life-sustaining” under state criteria.

“If we make it through here in three months or six months and half the small businesses are gone, what’s this country going to do?” he said. “We’ve got to somehow keep small businesses together so we can employ people on the other side.”

Helrich is doing his part by working as hard as he knows how, and hoping for a bit of luck.

“We’ve just got to cross our fingers that things work out,” he said. “ This is not the time to sit around. We’re trying to hold families together.”

— By Joel Berg, editor of BizNewsPA


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