Mary Brown carries on family legacy at Brown's Orchards
As she finds a balance between growth and tradition, the new president of Brown's Orchards is adopting a perspective of “one day at a time.”
Mary Brown took her current leadership role at the Springfield Township business following the unexpected death of her husband, Dave Brown. Dave Brown was attending a family fun night at his children’s school in March when he suffered a heart attack.
“No one can prepare you for what it’s like to lose the love of your life,” Mary said.
At the time, Dave was the president of Brown’s. Although he grew up in the family business, he pursued a career as a software developer after graduating college and worked with several corporations, including Black & Decker, Anheuser-Busch, Drinks.com, Hitachi and PepsiCo.
Mary said the two met when Dave was working in Chicago. They married in 2004. A year later, Dave’s brother, Scott, passed away after a long battle with brain cancer. Scott was the primary grower for Brown’s.
After Scott’s death, Dave’s mother, Nona, asked him to come home to work in the family business. In 2006, Dave became the vice president and general manager of Brown’s.
“He worked side-by-side with Stan [his father],” Mary recalled.
In 2012, Dave became the third-generation owner of the business founded in 1948 by his grandparents Earl and Margaret Brown. At that time, Mary held the role of vice president and treasurer. Stan continued to work with his son and daughter-and-law until his death last August at age 84.
Nona passed away in January. She was 82. That same month, Mary’s father, Joseph T. Babbo also died.
Despite the loss of family members, Mary said that transitioning into the role of president came without much difficulty. She credits her connection to her late husband as well as the supportive Brown’s Orchards family – both behind the counter and in front of it – for the successful changeover.
“We [Dave and I] were best friends. We lived and breathed Brown’s. Nothing is foreign to me, so that’s a blessing,” she said. “It may not have happened the way I prefer … I just take it one day at time. That’s all I can do."
A southern York County destination
When patrons first walk into Brown’s, they’re greeted with a smile and a hello from someone from a member of the staff. And then another. And then another.
Carol Shirley, known to staff as "Miss Shirley” comes to Brown’s just about every day. Her property abuts Brown’s and she stops in for a coffee or one of her favorite treats – cherry pudding.
The family-style business is something that has resonated with customers since its humble beginnings as a fruit stand. The orchard has grown into a market, winery, breakfast and lunch cafe. The business also has a greenhouse, a barbecue pit, playground and Honey House and observation bee hive.
“I’ve been coming since it was a fruit stand. And after my husband died, Stan told me that I should just stop in, whenever I need to get out,” Shirley said. “That was five years ago and I still listen to what he said. [Brown’s] helps fill a place in my life.”
Jan Weitkamp, a retired teacher from Dallastown, has also been coming to the business since it first opened.
“It’s so inviting,” Weitkamp said. “I get to see my students from so many years ago … and their kids, and their kids too. It’s such a family-oriented store. I love it.”
One of Weitkamp’s former students, Joe Doll, is the store manager.
Doll, who started working at 14 under the leadership of Stan Brown, has been with the organization for 22 years.
“I’ve worked here longer than I’ve lived,” Doll said.
He credited his work ethic to Stan, who is often described as the patriarch of the Brown family.
“He taught me so many things. My wife hates going to the grocery store with me because I’ll start fronting the shelves,” he said with a chuckle, adding that on any given day he can be seen doing everything from picking up litter on the floor to cleaning the bathrooms. “He never told me to do those things, I just watched him do it for all those years, so I want to be that person to continue doing it … I miss Stan so much.”
Having transitioned from Stan’s leadership, to Dave’s, to Mary’s, Doll was especially pleased that the legacy of the Brown name will live on.
“It’s huge. You have to go the grocery store. I have to go to the grocery store. You have to buy toilet paper and paper towels. But people want to come here because of our unique offerings and because people know the Browns, and love the Browns and what they stand for,” he said.
For Mary, it’s important to maintain the same level of quality that the business has carried on since 1948. Each week, she continues to read to the youngest patrons during story time, which was started by Nona.
As for the future, Mary Brown looks toward additional uses for the 200-plus acre property and additional wedding-favor offerings. In the meantime, she’s working with the existing staff to learn and observe in hopes of making operations even better.
“We pride ourselves on what we put on our shelves and serve every customer like family. There are no strangers in our lives,” she said. “You walk in, you aren’t a stranger anymore and I want that to carry on.”