In summer derailed by COVID-19, arrival of famous sweet corn welcomed in Dubuque

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many summer staples, but some things never change.

Saturday marked the first day of sweet corn sales this summer for Fincel’s Sweet Corn. And just as in previous years, eager customers lined up long in advance.

Saturday morning in the Blain’s Farm & Fleet parking lot in Dubuque, that meant the line started forming at about 8 a.m. for the corn to go on sale at 9.

For some, the arrival of the corn is a sweet spot of normalcy in what has been an atypical summer.

“It’s a tradition, and we’re hungry for it,” said Sue Howard, of Peosta, Iowa. “With the pandemic, it’s just something to enjoy again.”

Steve Bateman, of Dubuque, relaxed in a lawn chair as he waited in line. He said the homegrown, fresh-picked quality of Fincel’s corn sets it apart.

“You buy corn anywhere else, and it is not near the quality of sweetness and texture,” he said.

More than 75 people were waiting by the time owner Frank Fincel arrived with the wagon of corn at 8:45. He and his crew immediately jumped into action, and the stand opened 10 minutes early as masked employees rapidly bagged corn and distributed it to eager customers.

Jim Watt, a former Dubuque resident now living in South Carolina, waited in line with his grandson Alex Dunn, of Des Moines.

“Fincel’s is the best,” said Alex, 10. “It’s just different from all the others. You can just taste it.”

In addition to the Blain’s Farm & Fleet location, Fincel’s is operating a stand outside the former Shopko building at 255 John F. Kennedy Road.

The business also has a stand at the Dubuque Farmers’ Market, but no corn was sold at that location on Saturday. With limited space at the market and the anticipated high demand for the first corn of the summer, Fincel said he was worried that patrons and workers would not be able to follow social-distancing protocols.

He said the business might have corn at the market in the coming weeks, but will “play it by ear.”

“Right now, the (COVID-19) cases are kind of rising, and maybe we’re being a little bit overly cautious, but … I just want to be safe,” he said.

Fincel said he always aims to have the first corn ready by the 4th of July, but a recent trend of cool and wet springs has pushed back that date for five out of the past six years.

This year’s opening day also was affected by a strong storm that struck the tri-state area Thursday, pelting the Fincel’s farm in East Dubuque, Ill., with a deluge of rain and 70 mph winds, according to Fincel. The toppled cornstalks made harvesting difficult Saturday morning, and each stand received only one wagon of corn.

Fincel said he hopes to have more corn today and throughout the week.

But Saturday’s patrons didn’t mind the wait, so long as they got the corn they craved.

“It is the best in the country,” said Jan Hayertz, of Asbury, Iowa. “You never get a bad ear.”

As the line of customers began to dwindle somewhat at about 9:30, Fincel said, “It’s like Christmas morning. What an honor to see all those people waiting for us.”