This Chester County Man Saved His Family Business During the Pandemic

By Melissa Jacobs

Photo By Tessa Marie Images.

April 3 was not a good day for Matt Cracas. That morning, his father, Jim, was admitted to Paoli Hospital for COVID-19 treatment after battling fever, fatigue and exhaustion at home. His wife, Penny, an RN with the Chester County Health Department, also contracted the virus, but her symptoms were relatively mild and she recovered in a week.

Jim was a harder case. At 51, he’d been in good health and was known for working 10 hours a day, six days a week at Pickering Valley Feed & Farm, the family business in Exton. He’d been confined to his Chester Springs home since March 27, but his condition deteriorated. Within hours of being hospitalized, Jim was in the ICU on a ventilator.

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That left Pickering in the hands of 24-year-old Matt, a recent graduate of Penn State University’s Berks County campus, where he majored in marketing and management. He’d been working at Pickering since he was a little boy, and he was committed to keeping the 40-year-old business running. He created safety protocols for customers and employees, handled back-end accounting, and negotiated the federal government’s labyrinthine CARES Act to apply for payroll protection. “[The accounting] was the toughest part,” admits Matt. “My dad would normally walk me through that, but he was hospitalized for 11 days.”

Matt ran Pickering with a skeleton crew of six, down from the normal 15-20. “We didn’t layoff or furlough any employees, but some got sick and others stayed home out of an abundance of caution,” he says.

Right after Jim was diagnosed, Matt started exhibiting symptoms. He had a fever, a dry cough and fatigue. “It felt like I got hit by a bus,” he says. “Luckily, the fever was gone in three days, and I was fine after one week.”

Matt returned to Pickering on March 30, just before Jim was hospitalized. Hardly missing a beat, he worked 12-hour days for a month. “As much as it sucked, I have experience running a businesses that most 24-year-olds don’t have,” says Matt. “Now, I know who I can trust and who has my back. I know that, when all of the cards are on the table, I can work hard and get through a tough time.”

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Still recovering, Matt’s dad is back at Pickering part time, and he hopes to be back full time this summer. “We’re incredibly lucky,” says his son. “This will be an experience that my family—and probably the world—will never forget.”

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