Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company
Inspired by a field trip to a local producer, Michael Spicer began making his own maple syrup when he was just 11 years old. He would eventually take over Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company in 2019.
Family Times recently talked to Spicer about the company’s roots, its products, and the process for producing maple syrup.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
1. Can you start by telling me a little about the history behind Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company?
The company originated in 1977, and it was started by Karl Wiles. His family had some land, and after he graduated from college, he wanted to pursue a business of living off the land. That’s kind of how he started Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company. At the time, maple syrup was a little bit different of an agricultural business. He wanted to be able to provide a product directly to customers that they could enjoy, and he could have the fulfillment of providing families with something that they could share and love.
In 2015/2016, around that time, it got to the point where he wanted to retire. He looked to sell the business, but wasn’t able to find the unique buyer that was required. After a couple years of it being on the market, and no one purchasing it, I had reached out to him and asked him if I could take over his online business, his retail business. Then it turned into taking over the whole company.
A little background on myself and maple syrup: I went on a field trip to a local maple syrup producer in fifth grade and started making maple syrup in the backyard as a little weekend project. My ambitions took off from there, and I formed a company. We went to local farmers’ markets. Around the time that I was a sophomore in college (I attended Hamilton College and just graduated in May), I reached out to Karl and started taking over Cedarvale.
So, you were balancing running a business and being a college student. What was that like?
It was very busy. I was a two-sport athlete in college, and I went to a pretty good academic school. It was definitely challenging, but it also opened a lot of doors…I can’t thank everyone who supported me along the way enough.
2. What types of products do you offer today? What makes them unique?
When the company was first started in the 1970s, it was built off of producing a high-quality product to be enjoyed by families in Syracuse and throughout the country. We’ve kept that going. It’s been top of mind for everything. So, the quality of products is one thing.
As far as product diversity, that’s really where we’ve really been able to see ourselves grow. We’ve taken advantage of our location and our energy to be a retail dominant producer, which most aren’t. A lot of producers will make the syrup, and then sell it to big backers and different grocery stores, but we want to be able to connect with consumers more. We do that through product diversification. We have our barbecue sauces and our hot sauces. We do a lot of different maple candies. My sister is a chemistry major at Hamilton College, and she has started doing different infused products. This fall, we rolled out a pumpkin spice-infused maple syrup. We also have cinnamon-infused, coffee-infused. She is also developing different maple spreads which have been really popular.
You also offer Christmas trees during the holiday season?
That was my first relationship with Cedarvale; that’s where we got our Christmas tree every year. As long as I’ve known Cedarvale, it’s been a source of Christmas trees for families around Syracuse, and we continue to do that today.
3. How is your maple syrup produced?
We’re an open book. I think that’s one of the things that we pride ourselves on. We’re always looking to give tours and bring people into the store, so they can actually see the products being made. In March, we have a big festival. We try to do some stuff in the fall when we can. Bringing you into the process is what we live on.
We have roughly 2,000 taps that we operate, and all of those taps come into one tank connected through miles and miles of tubing system. Then we start the process by putting the sap, which is 2% sugar when it comes out of the trees, through a machine called a reverse osmosis machine. And what this machine does, is it takes the 2% sugar and puts it through a membrane, and when the sap comes out, it’s 10-12% sugar. All of that is powered by solar panels, which is pretty unique.
From there, we have to get it to 66% sugar. We use a wood fired evaporator. A lot of other producers use oil, but we pride ourselves on the ambience and doing it the traditional way and living off the land. We use wood that we source right from the forest where we operate. And that’s how we do the second half, the boiling process. We think it brings out a flavor that you can’t achieve when you’re doing it with oil or other fuel sources.
4. What do you see in the future for Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company?
I think we’re going to continue trying to build our community presence. We’ve been trying to partner with more restaurants and bring out some maple flavor. Ultimately, we’d like to become known as a predominant brand of tremendous quality and flavor around different maple products.
We’ve really been able to take advantage of new technology and ship across the country. We’ve gotten new customers that way, but we’re also able to provide maple syrup to families that have moved. We’ve been really fortunate to have those opportunities.
For more information about Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company, visit cedarvalemaple.com.
Joan Condlin’s Liverpool School of Dance
This season is a special one for Joan Condlin’s Liverpool School of Dance. For five decades, members of the Condlin family have been teaching Central New York children how to dance.
Family Times recently talked to Owner/Director Mary Condlin about the milestone – and the impact her business has had on the community.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
1. Joan Condlin’s Liverpool School of Dance is celebrating its 50th season this year. How has it changed and evolved over that time?
My mom [Joan Condlin] had her studio in Rochester in the basement of her house, then we moved to Liverpool. She rented the VFW four days a week, just to see how it would work. And it worked out very well, so we immediately had to move. We’ve been all over the village of Liverpool in different areas. We’ve always started at the age of three, and we just recently started at 2.5. And you know, the dance studio business fluctuates like everything else; you have super full years, then you have lighter years, and then you have a ton of kids graduate one year. This year, we don’t have a senior graduating. One year, we had eight. I would say like 50% of them do something in dance at college, whether it’s a dance club or a dance team. Right now, I have three alumni on the staff that have full time jobs during the day, but enjoy dance so much, they come back one night a week to help me and to teach. I think I have five alumni babies. Their parents took classes from us, and now they’re in their early to mid-30s, and their little girls are dancing with us. So, that’s sort of cool that they bring them back.
2. What kind of impact do you think you have had on the community?
We’ve done a ton of stuff. We were part of the dedication for the park in the village. We did the bicentennial. We worked for a good 10-15 years with the Liverpool Community Chorus. The girls always danced with them. We’ve worked with the Heart Association for like 10 years, and we currently work with the Alzheimer’s organization. We do a lot. We were in nursing homes right up until COVID. We started in 1986, and every Christmas, we would be in at least five or six nursing homes in the area. The kids love it. We used to dance every day at the New York State Fair. We would have a designated spot where we danced with them. Then, over time, they got fuller, which is good for them. They got more people to come in. So, we still try to do that. That’s another thing the kids love doing. We try to stay in the community as much as we can…Anything they need, we’re here for. And the girls like doing different things. We do compete a little bit, but I think if they had to choose, they would choose the nursing homes. They love putting on shows.
This is the first year we don’t have a dance program in school. We started that in 1986 also, and went into different elementary schools in the city, Baldwinsville, North Syracuse, and Liverpool. We haven’t been able to do it because of COVID. So, we’re going to take a pause and go back in next year. It’s just for people who can’t afford to get their kids into a studio, or they can’t because of their work schedules. We go into the gym, and we teach right there in the school, which helps.
3. What types of classes and programs do you offer?
We offer ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, and pointe. And we do combinational classes. Our younger kids start out with ballet and tap. It’s an hour class, and they learn all the basics. Then as they get older, like in first grade, we add jazz. We don’t use timeframes or testing to move kids up. They move as they’re able to move, as they’re capable…And as they get older, each class gets a little harder. Most of my competition kids are here three nights a week. But we move them according to their pace. We’re flat across the board. If you call me, and your kids want to dance, we dance.
But to me, it’s not what plaque I have on the wall. I tell the kids, ‘I want you to do well. If you win, you win. I want you to come off that stage and know that you put 100% in, and you feel good. If you made some mistakes, it’s ok, we’ll fix them.’ We did The Letter by Tim McGraw, and it’s about a soldier. The kids actually had letters in their hands, but they didn’t know what was in them. At the end they opened them, and I had put a soldier’s tombstone in each letter. They were totally caught by surprise. The judges didn’t know what was in the letter, they thought they were doing this big acting thing, but they got an emotional award for that. Those are the ones that mean more. A lot of times, we get what’s called the ‘Backstage Award,’ and it’s just a courteous award. It’s like if someone comes to us and says, ‘Hey, we have a costume-changing problem, could we switch and go first?’ ‘Sure, go first.’ Those are the kind of awards that mean the most because the kids are learning to deal with life…We go to different competitions that are more about stuff like that, rather than just 8,000 kids showing up to dance and trying to win first place. We try to pick the really special ones that take the time with the kids.
We want the kids to learn to dance, to have fun, to love coming. We made thankful turkeys for Thanksgiving. Each week they came in, they wrote something they were thankful or grateful for. Most of it has turned out to be pizza and the dog…We do things like that. We started that during COVID because I didn’t want the kids to be nervous coming back. Last year, we did chains. Every time, they came in, they put a loop on the chain, and we ended up with like 40 feet. We’re going to hang it all over the building this year…It’s all about them having something to do. Dance is their sport. We come in, and they have a moment where they can just unwind. We take those five minutes, then we get into dance class. It’s more about them learning the terminology and just enjoying themselves. That’s what’s important. We’re a little tougher on the older kids, but when they’re young, they just need to have a place to be.
4. What do you see in the future for Joan Condlin’s Liverpool School of Dance?
I would love to be able to incorporate healthy things for them, like yoga and meditation. We have an alumnus who lives in Virginia, and every once I awhile she’ll Zoom us with a yoga class or some meditational things. The kids really enjoy it, and I think they need it, especially now…We started doing a little bit of yoga with the younger kids right before COVID hit. And they actually liked it. We would do it the last five minutes before they went home, and parents said dinner was a lot calmer…Healthy things that are good for both physical and mental health for kids. And keeping my alumni involved within the studio.
For more information about Joan Condlin’s Liverpool School of Dance, visit liverpoolschoolofdance.com.