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story.lead_photo.caption In this California Democrat file photo from March 2013, a sign at the Burgers Smokehouse driveway welcomes visitors during heavy snowfall.

Burgers' Smokehouse will not open the Factory Country Store until at least 2021, the business decided this month.

The retail store at Burgers' Smokehouse closed earlier this year due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Burgers' Smokehouse president Steven Burger said the decision to close the store, initially, was a direct implication of the pandemic itself, after which the business continued to "kick the can down the road" looking for an opportunity to reopen when the circumstances around the virus had improved.

The decision to keep its doors shuttered for the upcoming holiday season, however, lies in more reasons than just the ongoing public health crisis, Burger said.

"Any decision these days is influenced, to some extent, by the pandemic," Burger said. "However, I think it's important to know that our decision to not reopen the factory store for the remainder of the year wasn't necessarily the direct result of concern over COVID-19 transmission. In fact, the safeguards that we've put into place, the plant-level measures that we've implemented earlier in the year to keep the spread from inside the facility from being a problem, have actually been very successful."

Burger said the decision to keep the retail store closed lies more in the company's desire to focus on production for the rest of the year, along with hiring. Burger said business is strong and Burgers' Smokehouse will likely have a hard time keeping up with orders. The business is currently in "hiring mode" for its seasonal positions and is encouraging applicants to inquire about coming on to help with things like phone orders.

With this in mind, it's more so, Burger said, a shift in focus as opposed to a decision forced by the pandemic.

"We've kind of almost learned to live with (the virus)," Burger said. "We've been through the county fair, we've begun to go back to church, we're going back to school, we're kind of learning to live with the new normal. I think for most, anyway, I think the direct fear of COVID itself is not what it was maybe several months ago. But the way we operate, at least for the near future, will continue to be influenced by the lingering effects of the pandemic."

Burger said Burgers' Smokehouse has had a lot of groundswell of interest in opening up the factory store, with the community showing support for doing so. With that level of enthusiasm, Burger said the business wanted to make sure products typically available at the factory store would still be available elsewhere.

"We've been working with the local grocery stores here in town with some of our most popular factory store items, most notably what we call 'defective slice hams,' which many people have come out looking for, specifically," Burger said. "They're available at both of our grocery stores here in town, and the two stores carry a broad range of the products we have here. Not completely, but a pretty wide range."

Burger said he encourages the community to continue to shop local, and Burgers' Smokehouse will continue to work with local grocers to stock products that aren't currently available if they see an interest in adding them.

"We understand that many people throughout the community, and the state of Missouri even, have expressed a disappointment that we are not opening," Burger said. "Many have made it an annual pilgrimage to come to the smokehouse. We really appreciate hearing that feedback, and we're humbled that people care enough to share their desire to have the factory store open, and that'll certainly weigh heavily in the decisions we'll make down the road."

For those who have feedback for the business, Burger encouraged reaching out via Burgers' Smokehouse's social media channels, such as the Facebook page.

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