Locals around Ballston Lake will say that Lakeside Farms is more than just a store and Dick Pearce was more than just a business owner.
Pearce, who opened a small farm store with his parents in 1958 and kept his hand in the day-to-day work of his expanding business until shortly before his death Tuesday, provided a community gathering place for local residents and a destination for tourists.
“It always reminded me of the country store where people came and gathered. There’s always someone there that you know,” said Pat Herron of Ballston, who was friends with Pearce. “It’s Americana at its best.”
Pearce, 81, died at Ellis Hospital after a short illness, leaving behind his wife, Lorraine, three adult children and four stepchildren.
Though his children, Jeffrey Pearce, Richard Pearce and Lisa Martin, are deeply involved in the business, their father was the face of Lakeside.
“It’s going to be an empty space without him there,” said Pat Stone of Clifton Park, whose husband, Chet, became close friends with Dick Pearce more than 20 years ago. “His reach was unbelievable.”
Pearce pushed his country store into new territory, expanding from a place that sold cider and baked goods to a spot to eat breakfast and lunch, buy local produce and agricultural goods and even hold a party or wedding. “He was kind of a forerunner of growing an agricultural business,” said Joan Pott of Ballston, whose husband, lawyer Carlton Pott, helped Pearce apply for permits to put on special events as far back as 20 years ago. “He was obviously a very skilled businessman.”
Over the years, Pearce has held antique shows, art shows and car shows at the farm, as well as musical entertainment and dances.
And though his business skill won him customers, the service to his community was what made him proud, Herron said.
“He said, ‘My father would be so happy to see that we’ve done this for the community.’ ”
His father, Robert Pearce, bought the property at 336 Schauber Road in 1948 and started making and selling cider with his wife, Agnes, and Dick, according to the company’s website.
The family opened a small store on the property in 1958 and three years later moved it into its currently location in a renovated carriage barn. The business continued to expand, and the family added an apple barn in 1971, started growing vegetables in the 1980s and began serving breakfast in 1990, the website says.
And Lakeside is considered to be the first place in the area to make and sell apple cider doughnuts.
Pearce started making cider doughnuts by hand in 1963 and now Lakeside churns them out by machine to keep up with the demand for the sweet treats.
Pearce got the idea from a plastic bag salesman who visited his store sometime before that. The salesman’s sample bag from a small store in New York City had “Apple Cider Doughnuts” printed on it, and the phrase piqued his interest, he told The Gazette in 2000.
“I was making the doughnuts, but I wasn’t using cider,” Pearce said then.
Locals frequent the store in the spring, summer and late fall, some of them eating breakfast at Lakeside every day. But in September and October — the peak cider season — the place is mobbed with customers from downstate, New Jersey and even farther.
“We kind of back off and let everybody else enjoy it,” Herron said. Pearce manned the cider press himself every Thursday.
By Halloween, Lakeside is back to being a local hangout again. In the past few years, Pearce’s sons and daughter have kept the store open until December while he went to his winter home in Florida.
Through the years, Pearce was always willing to help another local farmer or business person.
“He gave a lot of people a start,” said Clifton Park beekeeper Rick Green, who got his own start selling honey at Lakeside more than 20 years ago.
“He called everybody ‘kid,’ ” Green recalled. “He probably had to remember 50,000 names.”
Pearce was a down-to-earth man who was generous with his time.
“He’d sit down and talk about political affairs and excuse himself and go feed the pigs in the back,” Green said. “He was versatile, to say the least.”
Pearce never considered hanging up his hat even as he settled into his 80s.
“People say, ‘When will you retire?’ ” he told The Gazette in an interview in 2011. “I say, ‘I am retired, but I enjoy it.’ It keeps me in shape, too.”
Visiting hours will be 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Glenville Funeral Home, 9 Glenridge Road. The service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church, 209 Union St., Schenectady.