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Fall’s Almost Here. Can We Still Go Apple Picking?



Across much of the country, fall is the season of apple-picking, corn mazes, winery harvests and Halloween hauntings, luring day-trippers and weekenders to rural areas. But if summer is any guide, many fall festivities may require more planning this year to avoid the crowds.

While visitors may still launch a pumpkin from a catapult, pandemic restrictions will touch everything: Hay rides will now be socially distanced, and masked clowns will be poised to scare haunted house visitors from six feet away.

ImagePicking apples at Grandad’s Apples, in Hendersonville, N.C..
Credit…Sam Dean/Henderson County Tourism

Apple-picking, pumpkin patch visits and corn mazes are fall traditions at many businesses.

In Hendersonville, N.C., 25 miles south of Asheville, the annual North Carolina Apple Festival celebrates the area’s fruit growers and has, in recent years, drawn some 250,000 attendees to town. This year, the September event was largely canceled, but area orchards remain busy.

“Down are the tour bus groups and church groups, but we’re getting a lot more families,” said Leslie Lancaster, an owner of Grandad’s Apples N’ Such, a 120-acre farm in Hendersonville that offers apple picking (pecks from $11) and has a store and bakery. “Everyone is trying to find something to do with their kids.”

The orchard, one of 20 on the regional Crest of the Blue Ridge Orchard Trail, isn’t taking reservations, but is monitoring the number of visitors to ensure social distancing, and recommending its slower hours, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, to avoid congestion. It runs a tractor-pulled train on the weekends, but has kept the jump pillow, where children may collide, closed this year.

“A lot of farms have gone to timed entries or tickets for a certain time frame to encourage crowd management,” said Suzi Spahr, the executive director of the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association, a nonprofit trade group.

Admissions policies may vary by state or by county. In South Natick, Mass., Lookout Farm is requiring reservations for apple picking, and has shut down its train ride and play area (admission $20, including a half-peck of fruit). Pickers must wear masks, wash their hands before entering the orchard, use bags supplied by the farm and refrain from eating fruit in the orchard.

At Dr. Davies Farm in Congers, N.Y., about 30 miles north of New York City, reservations are strongly suggested for 30-minute windows, and visitors must buy a seven-pound bag each or a 25-pound bag for a group of up to six people (prices vary).

Carter Mountain Orchard, in Charlottesville, Va., has implemented a ticket reservation system — guests can choose from three time slots per day. “We absolutely cannot accommodate the same number of people this year that we have in previous years,” said Cynthia Chiles, the owner of the orchard. Visitors can also drive through the 200-acre orchard and purchase ready-picked apples from their cars. Tickets aren’t needed, but ordering in advance is recommended.

The alterations are similar at you-pick pumpkin patches. Though it does not take reservations, Hank’s Pumpkintown in Water Mill, N.Y., in the Hamptons, has added hand-washing stations and hand-sanitizer dispensers across the grounds that include areas for apple picking and a corn maze (admission to attractions from $10; free admission to the pumpkin patch; pumpkins sold by the pound).

At Whitcomb’s Land of Pumpkins and Corn Maze in Williston, Vt., opening Sept. 19, the spacing between pumpkin rows, like its corn maze aisles, are wider and hand sanitizer is provided upon entrance (corn maze admission, $5).

Many corn mazes this year will have wider paths, and additional passing lanes where maze-goers can distance themselves from others at points where they must decide which way to go; some are reducing the number of those decisions or eliminating dead-end options, according to Brett Herbst, the owner of The MAiZE, a company based in Spanish Fork, Utah, that works with more than 280 farms in North America and Europe in designing and building corn mazes.

“These are about three to four times the size of a Home Depot or Walmart,” Mr. Herbst said, noting mazes run 300,000 to 600,000 square feet. “I don’t know of a business that can social distance better than we can given that we’re outdoors and have such a large footprint.”

Mr. Herbst also operates Cornbelly’s, a corn maze in Lehi, Utah, that has partnered with Disney to theme its 2020 maze after the movie “Toy Story” (admission from $13.95). Both the maze, opening Sept. 25, and the film turn 25 this year.

To comply with pandemic-imposed capacity restrictions, most mazes require timed and ticketed admission this season. Near Fredericksburg, Va., Belvedere Plantation is selling timed tickets to its maze to keep within the state capacity limit of 1,000 people, and has made everything cashless except the animal feed dispensers that still take quarters (admission from $13.95). Its 34 campfire sites are available by reservation for four-hour windows ($75), though most attractions, including a pumpkin patch and hayride, are included with admission.

Many farms that held fall festivals had to cancel or reduce them, often spreading more low-key celebrations out.

Lawrence Orchards in Marion, Ohio, canceled its annual Applefest and replaced it with Harvest Saturdays throughout September and October with events including pumpkin painting and scavenger hunts (free admission).

Fishkill Farms, in East Fishkill, N.Y., has also scrapped its fall harvest festival weekends, which feature live music and face painting. But one celebratory touch remains in the form of a fiddler who roams the fields serenading customers.

“That was a way that we could maintain a little bit of a festival atmosphere, without creating a crowded congregation area around live music,” said Joshua Morgenthau, the owner of the farm.

At Happy Day Farm, in Manalapan, N.J., the annual Fall Festival will take place on select days through Oct. 25, but at half capacity and without activities involving contact, including children’s pony rides and photos with the Pumpkin Princess (admission $16). The corn maze route is a little wider and the new hay wagons are 32 feet compared to the 20-footers used in previous years. Each activity features hand-sanitizing stations and signage on social distancing.

“We’ve never had to wipe down a tether ball before, but this year, we will,” said Tim Stockel, the owner of the 130-acre farm.

In many cases, restrictions have led to new activities.

“These entrepreneurs have very creative minds,” Ms. Spahr, of the farmers’ association, said, noting that many farms have added drive-through lanes to pick up things like flowers and doughnuts.

Among them, Leaman’s Green Applebarn in Freeland, Mich., offered drive-through cider sundaes in spring and a socially distant sunflower festival in summer. This fall, the you-pick farm is requiring timed tickets ($4 to $6) to limit the number of people on the 85-acre farm to no more than 150. Visitors are asked to sanitize their hands before and after activities and when each two-and-a-half-hour session ends, the proprietors will close for an hour to clean the playground, hayride and picnic tables.

“We want to provide a place to feel safe and still create family memories,” said Sara Reisinger, a manager of Leaman’s and a sixth-generation member of the family that runs the farm.

Credit…Finger Lakes Wine Country

Fall is also high season for harvest visits to wine regions, and wineries are adapting to pandemic rules.

Instead of canceling harvest events entirely, members of the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail near Traverse City, Mich., created a disbursed event called Harvest Days that runs throughout September. Ticketholders taking self-guided tours have access to tastings and other perks at 26 wineries ($35).

Credit…Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

In Starlight, Ind., Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyards offers 30-minute walking tours and tastings in its winery and distillery on weekdays from Sept. 19 through Oct. 31, with limited capacity ($16.05). Visitors must remain six feet apart, and face masks are required. This season, the 600-acre estate also offers outdoor tastings of its wine and spirits on weekends. Tickets can be purchased on-site and include a fall harvest-themed glass.

In the Finger Lakes region of New York, home to about 140 wineries, indoor operations are limited to half capacity — at Fox Run Vineyards, tastings are indoors and first-come, first-served (flights $10), but most are entertaining visitors outdoors. Sheldrake Point Winery is offering flights, glasses and bottle service on the patio and allowing guests to bring their own picnic. The winery takes reservations online and asks same-day visitors without one to call for availability.

“We started with all reservations, but in so many cases we found people enjoying the views and missing their next appointment,” said Laury Ellen Ward, the president of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association. “We encourage everyone to call, even if it’s 10 minutes ahead.”

Credit…Eastern State Penitentiary

Fall festivities that involve zombie chases, lunging clowns and stalkings by bloodthirsty psychopaths are having a harder time adapting to virus constraints.

“We thrived on big lines in front of the haunt that drew people in,” said J.F. Storm, a co-host of the podcast Big Scary Show that covers haunted attractions, often called haunts. “The best actor would entertain guests and build up suspense. That can’t happen this year.” When it comes to personal protective equipment, he added, “masks and face shields are becoming part of the character.”

Capacity limits, social-distancing measures and sanitation requirements are forcing many seasonal haunts to cancel this year, according to Larry Kirchner, who runs the website HauntWorld.com, which lists scary attractions worldwide. He also owns two haunted houses in the St. Louis, Mo., area, the Darkness and Creepyworld, that will open Oct. 2 with adjustments like nightly sanitizing, confining actors to scare zones and pinning back curtains that once guests reached through blindly to enter a room.

Some of the biggest pop-up Halloween horrors, including Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights at theme parks in Florida and California, have been canceled. “Terror Behind the Walls,” the seasonal fright at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, has been replaced with night tours, from Sept. 18 to Nov. 15, that aim for a quieter sense of creepy.

“There was no way to run a traditional haunted house safely when so much of the excitement of a haunted attraction is the surprise of being closer to someone than you realize, that startled scare,” said Sean Kelley, the senior vice president and director of interpretation at the 10-acre former prison, which opened in 1829.

With just 50 visitors per half-hour permitted, night tours, when floodlights sweep the grounds and a silent 1929 film made at the prison flickers in a cellblock courtyard, remain eerie.

Many attractions are emphasizing safety via mobility. The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, featuring more than 7,000 lighted pumpkins on the 18th-century Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., Sept. 18 to Nov. 21, has reduced capacity by 67 percent with signs, distance markers and Social Distancing Ambassadors to keep visitors progressing safely on the walking path. Timed tickets will be sold online only (from $24).

Some attractions are going to a drive-through model, including Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses in Ulster Park, N.Y. Running Oct. 2 to 31, the popular 65-acre attraction in the Hudson Valley will replace its hayride with a one-mile drive through the haunted grounds decorated with 1,000 carved and lighted pumpkins. Costumed actors will maintain six-foot social distancing and cars are also required to stay six feet apart (tickets from $39.95).

“It’ll be a visual experience until you get out of the car,” said the co-owner Michael Jubie, noting that after the drive visitors can park and walk through seven haunted houses with some safety modifications.

In Orlando, a group of artists with extensive resumes at Disney World and other theme parks, got together to create the Haunted Road, a 40-minute drive-through event in which groups of cars travel from scene to scene to watch a live-action play with original music and sound and lighting effects that recasts the story of Rapunzel set loose in a terrifying world (Sept. 25 to Nov. 7; $15 to $30). The script was inspired by the restlessness the collaborators experienced during the pandemic.

“When we started thinking about story lines with cabin fever, we selected Rapunzel,” said Jessica Mariko, the executive producer and creative principal of the Haunted Road. “She’s in a tower and when she finally gets out, she enters a world unlike she’s imagined it to be, running into crazy scenarios, characters, horror and death.”

For terror-phobes, there’s also a family-friendly daytime version.

Sara Aridi contributed reporting to this article.

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.



The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.


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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.



The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.


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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.



As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.


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