The Mystery of The Last Seven at Dairy Barn

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Plainedge Dairy Barn, 1976

There were twelve Dairy Barns still standing in March, there are now seven. It happens something like this; at the end of the day a long standing Dairy Barn location closes seemingly just for the night, but instead, a strange transformation takes place. A similar yet somehow different store called The Barn opens in its place the next day. The new store looks almost like the old, but it is not. It has new ownership, new employees, new offerings, and is non unionized. People can buy milk and staples and snacks, but it is not the same business.

This has been happening on the average of about one store a month for the last three years, and only seven Dairy Barn’s now remain. At some point, probably early next year the last one will go and there will be none left. The company that in 1961 invented the concept of drive through grocery shopping will be no more.

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The change from Dairy Barn to The Barn … many people don’t even notice anything is different.

Not that long ago, as recently as 2005, the New York Times was writing up glowing reviews of the then 51 store Dairy Barn franchise which seemed to only drive home the point that things were just rolling along as they always had been for 45 years at Dairy Barn. The owners, the  Cosman family, were enjoying things, they were in a business they had been in for a long time, and nothing seemed to change much in their lives. It was a stable place to work. Other than ownership considering the addition of a few frozen meals produced by local area merchants, there was really nothing much going on at all.

How things have changed. As early as 2010 rumors started flying, people who knew something was wrong were looking for jobs elsewhere, and insiders were spreading word that it might be a good time for everyone to leave. There still remained almost 50 locations open, the new Barn stores were just a blip on the radar screen. If you looked around on the surface you wouldn’t know anything was wrong, but in back rooms the message was different, it was time to get out.

So why the change in course? Well it’s not easy to tell the answer for sure. The Cosman family still isn’t speaking, and nobody else in management wants to talk either. All attempts to approach the company for a comment have been rebuked. We only know they have decided to end the business their patriarch father Dieter Cosman so ingeniously initiated in the early 1960′s.

dairybarnchart

The motivation is probably money, and a lot of it, on a real estate deal, which they hope to get for the sale of their biggest asset, their plant the Oak Tree Dairy milk production facility at 544 Elwood Road in East Northport. Dairy Barn /Oak Tree announced in March 2012 their intention to sell and close the 37 acre plant property to developer Engel Burman who would then build a two story, 482-unit condominium community for age 55 and over owners on the site. Known as The Seasons at Elwood, the units would cost somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 each. No price sale for the entire plot has been disclosed, but you have to imagine it would bring the Cosman’s into more money than they could ever dream of from running a dairy farm.

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The Proposed Seasons Elwood Plan

The only reason Dairy Barn ownership has made any comment to anyone at all about their intentions is because they have been forced to. Oak Tree needs to get the town to implement a zone change from R-40 to R-RM to make the sale acceptable to Engel who needs to redevelop the property into smaller plots which current zoning will not allow. But residents of Huntington and Northport have been vigorously opposing that change since the proposed sale was first announced in March of 2012. Their pressure has been making it hard for town officials to even consider the zoning move at all.

Hari SIngh, December 2012

Since the spring of 2012, at meeting after meeting, more and more residents have come out and put more and more pressure on the town against the change. What at first seemed like a minor technicality in the way of getting the sale done has become a major road block. With pressure mounting and the mood growing more negative at the meetings, Dairy Barn President Hari Signh was forced to come down and plead his case. At the December 18, 2012 Huntington Town Board meeting he said this; “We’ve been spending the last three years working on this alternative of this development which from our perspective was extremely thoughtful. Developer Engel Burman mitigated a great deal of the externalities and we thought that the government would recognize that this development addresses so many of the potential downsides while removing the dairy. We thought that it would be a no-brainer. And, frankly, it’s a simpler alternative and it’s slightly more profitable.”

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Concerned Residents at May 2012 Elwood Board of Ed Meeting (Patch photo)

While it may or may not be a no-brainer, what should not go unnoticed is that Singh revealed that Dairy Barn has been working on the deal for at least three years. That would take us back to late 2009; back to about the time the Dairy Barn made that mysterious turn in direction, back to about the time they started to close all those stores. No doubt the folks at Dairy Barn knew the offer from Engel was coming and there already was some form of silent agreement in place.

Stop The Rezone Protest Signs

Singh’s words did little to sway any public opinion, and so Diary Barn instead decided to move to its dreaded ‘plan B’. This was the implementation of a heavy handed approach to get people to see things their way. Oak Tree intended to ramp up production at Elwood so high as to hopelessly congest and annoy the towns residents into surrender. They wanted to crowd the town with milk trucks going in and out of their plant and up and down narrow Elwood and Cuba Hill Roads and force residents to see that they had no choice but to succumb to Oak Tree’s wishes.

Oak Tree Milk Cartons, Newsday Photo

It’s hard to imagine people thinking they would be better off gaining a few thousand new 55 plus year old neighbors than having a few noisy milk trucks in their way. It’s hard to imagine they would find the trucks more irritating than a few hundred new frantic grocery shoppers at the Path Mark at Dix Hills Plaza on a Saturday morning or on the fourth of July. It was hard to imagine it happening and it didn’t happen. In the end the community was not bullied into anythng. The whole process probably just made them more defiant and united in their cause. It also did little to improve Oak Tree’s public image with anyone.

Newsday reported on July 18th, 2013  that officials have all but rejected Burnam’s current development plan, sending it back to them with a request for a revision with less units before it will look at it again. Even after it is revised and sent back in, there are no guarantees. The resistance continues to fortify its stand and the protest is likely to start up all over again when the proposal comes back.

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March 15, 1985 Oak Tree North Babylon Delivery (Newsday)

In some ways the Oak Tree Dairy can be seen as a victim of its own success. For years it thrived by marketing itself as the only remaining dairy farm on Long Island. It was playing up to the sympathetic ears of Long Islanders who had grown unhappy about the progressive loss of their once productive and spacial farmland, who now didn’t want to see this last farm go.

After decades of having to stand by all too idly while farm after farm was sold to capitalistic opportunists who converted them into crowded condos and apartments, maybe this time the people of the island, their roads and communities, crowded and stretched to the limit, have had enough. Maybe this time they are going to stop the last dairy farm from fleeing and not let it be turned into one more crowded development.

One last thought, the owners of Dairy Barn might consider making at least one new hire, a good PR firm. To date Dairy Barn has done just about everything it can to alienate the town, its people, its officials and its own cause. Trying to extort and beat someone into submission is not the best tactic to convince anyone to do anything. This may work in totalitarian governments, but not in democracies. A better plan; try negotiating with the people and hear what they want.

For continuing developments on this story stay tuned to my places no more facebook page and this blog. My earlier  story on Dairy Barn closings is here .

Sources and Further Reading

New York Times. 4/6/00  A Clank of Milk Bottles Is Heard In The Land
New York Times 4/3/05 Where We Live, One Stop Shopping, Right In The Car
John Abbate, WordPress 3/7/12  Making Sense of the Demise
Northport Patch, 3/16/12 Developer Eyes Oak Tree Dairy
Newsday, 4/18/12 Oak Tree Dairy May Be Converted To Condos
Newsday  4/18/12 Oak Tree Dairy Photos
New York Times 4/29/12 The Uncertain Fate of Farmland
Northport Patch 5/6/12 Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development
Port Washingon Patch 6/25/12 A New Spin on an Old Busines
Northport Patch 10/12/12 Elwood Residents Organize Against Proposed Condos
Newsday 10/14/12 Residents Oppose East Northport Development 
Lynbrook Patch 10/22/12 Lynbrook Dairy Barn Changing Ownership
Northport Patch 12/20/12 Oak Tree Dairy: Elwood has two options
Northport Patch 12/26/12 Fire Breaks Out at the Oak Tree Dairy 
Newsday 1/10/13 Elwood Dairy Hikes Output Amid Questions Over Development 
Northport Patch 1/11/13 Oak Tree Increasing Output
Places No More 3/6/13 The Mystery of the Last Dozen At Dairy Barn
Long Beach Patch 3/7/13 The Barn Opens Driveways in Long Beach
Newsday  7/18/13 Town To Oak Tree Developer, Revise Housing Plan
Northport Patch 7/19/13 Petrone Urges Developer to Re-Think Elwood Condos

Websites

1961, The First Dairy Barn Opens

The Barn Website

Dairy Barn Website

The Seasons at Elwood

Read the facts and then … Greater Huntington Civic Group WebSite

Leave a comment

28 Comments

  1. Karen

     /  July 29, 2013

    It’s sad to think that such a great business would close> However, I think it is pretty sad that the owners can’t sell their property, it is their’s to sell! I personally would think that senior housing is greatly needed in the area and would actually be a plus for the township. It has people who are currently in homes able to sell and move into property that is more manageable. This in turn would put homes on the market for young families to move into, a win, win, all the way around. . Ok, maybe they need to scale down the amount of units (although I am not sure what number they are actually talking about), but to block this completely sounds ludicrous to me.

    Reply
  2. Gene B

     /  July 29, 2013

    Minor correction — Dairy Barn started in 1961, making it 52 years in business.

    Reply
  3. Marc

     /  July 29, 2013

    Sorry Karen- the property might be theirs to sell but they can only sell it if it complies with local zoning which apparently it doesnt or they wouldnt have to apply for a variance. As for “senior housing” being in short supply at over $500 k per unit- I think you better do some research as there is an “oversupply” of homes in that area and theres no way that the addition of all these units does anything positive for real estate markets. I am not sure what you are reading as most young families are not in need of more housing to purchase, first of all there is pleny of of it (over 8 mos of unsold inventory) and 2nd of all most cant afford it with the rising interest rates, poor LI employment picture and ofcourse LI ridiculus real estate taxes… the only thing ludicrous is your naivete with regards to the only people who will benefit here and those who will be adversely affected.. the last thing LI needs anywhere is more cluster zoning.

    Reply
  4. Gene, if you mean the reference to 45 years, I think I was referring to its age at the time of the 2005 New York Times article. 44 years might be more accurate … the NYT article itself states 40 plus years, maybe I would have been better off doing that too.

    Reply
  5. Mark

     /  July 29, 2013

    I ran a db for seven years. My boss was 45 and with the company since he was 16. It was the only job he had other than a paper route. Fact is, the stores didn’t make money, Tuscan took over supermarkets and they owed the local 1500 a few million.

    Reply
  6. Sad that as usual, it comes down to the almighty dollar. How did America get to be where it is ? It was due to the hard work of farmers and others like them, that toiled the land. And now they may end up being no more, because someone else wants to make a bigger buck. Hang in there, Dairy Barn, and Oak Tree Dairy-fight for what is right ! We want you to stay.

    Reply
  7. Karen

     /  July 30, 2013

    No, I don’t live in the area any longer so I would have no clue what the supply of houses are in there. I tell you what, Ohio looks better and better to me as each year passes.
    So tell me this, is the farm forever zoned to be a farm? If so that is ridiculous.

    Reply
  8. emily w

     /  July 30, 2013

    What does the closing of the milk plant have to do with the rebranding of the retail stores?

    You make it sound like the neighbors care about saving a farm. But from the aerial photo at http://goo.gl/maps/AemHT , it looks like the milk plant is just an industrial building — no pastures full of cows.

    Reply
    • The re-branding of the stores merely coincides with the timing of Oak Tree’s decision to sell the plant. We don’t truly know the reasons, they haven’t told us, so it leaves us to speculate. As for the saving of the farm, yes no cows, but it’s also about the conversion of spacial land used for the purpose of making something the people need, into crowded residential areas which has helped to congest the island and its roads. And Oak Tree’s own site refers to the land as a farm dairy, if they can do it, why can’t we?

      Reply
  9. The surrounding neighbors complained of a foul odor coming from the facility, spoiled milk and now complain when they finally got their way and it’s ben shutter… Stop your whining and be glad for new revenue….

    Reply
  10. Truth is the community complained when the dairy was operating out of compliance. They have using their waste water treatment plant improperly. When it is used improperly it causes a foul order. Engel Burman overestimated the community dislike of the dairy based on the complaints of small group of residents immediately surrounding the dairy property, and then proceeded to overpay for the property. What they negelected to consider were the thousands of other residents that utilize Elwood Rd from every other surrounding hamlet in the Town of Huntington. Engel Burman should not have promised 3 times the value of the property. If anyone is interested in joining the preservation of our communities in Huntington and on Long Island please email me at preservingelwood@gmail.com and/or visit our website http://www.greaterhuntingtoncivicgroup.com/pen for ways to help.

    Reply
  11. FYI, the Oakwood property is still currently zoned for one acre homesites like those around it. Point of reference that is no clearly understood. Right now it provides income to the local Elwood school district, with no cost of children to educate. That may NOT be the case with ‘senior” housing, as many 55 year olds still have kids living at home, and in school. Also, the concept of 500 new Elwood residents being able to add 500 NO votes to the school budget is not too promising to the Elwood School’s is it? Dairy trucks are a lot less obtrusive than 500 plus more cars along Elwood road….

    Reply
    • Marc

       /  July 30, 2013

      Matt my sentiments exactly

      Reply
    • Bobbi

       /  July 30, 2013

      Think about all the seniors living in houses in Elwood and East Northport. What makes you think they allvote NO on education issues. Also 55 years would not be allowed to have “children” under 18 living there. Think ..if your own parents could not keep up their homes any longer, they would have to move to sheere??Out of state and no longer be able to see their family as often?? Don’t be selfish. Think of senior as having a better life in an over 55 neighborhood with a clubhouse and pool.

      Reply
    • Alyson

       /  January 16, 2014

      That’s a good point Matt. The “NO vote” makes a lot of sense. More sense then conserving Long Islands last farm. There hasn’t been any cows on the farms for years. Its just a lot of unused land. The plant smells foul (especially on those hot summer days). Why on earth would residents want a smelly milk plant to stay, with Oaktree trucks driving in and out of a quiet residential neighborhood at 2am (they do their deliveries overnight) and when they finish their routes its 10am competing with the school busses. Why would people fight for that? The only thing that makes sense is the NO vote. Because this “farm” was no farm. It was an industrial milk plant. They moved the cows upstate a long time ago.
      p.s. – the stores did not make any profit, local 1500 took it, and then some, putting the stores and the plant in the red. The union ruined a lot of lives.

      Reply
      • Truth is the Dairy Plant is finished. They held a public auction yesterday. (http://www.harrydavis.com/AuctionDetails.asp?id=174) What is wrong with keeping open space and land. When did Long Island become a place that needed every piece of land developed, and in this case irresponsibly. There are rules, aka zoning, that states what is appropriate based on environmental, traffic, economical studies, etc…. These studies cost the taxpayers millions of dollars (Horizons 2020, Town of Huntington) Now a developer wants the rules changed for their benefit only. I get it the zoning did not allow for an industrial facility either and when the placed burned to the ground in the 1990′s they should not have allowed them to rebuild. Trucks have not been going in and out of there for over a year now, and the foul smell has been gone for almost 5 years, since their sewage treatment plant was brought up to code and they stopped illegally dumping material in the field.

  12. Steve Guerra

     /  July 30, 2013

    Many developments are being planned across Long Island as the final build out takes place Urban planners do not have our best interest at heart. We are now learning of all the back door deals with developers. This puts us on the defensive. Unless we intervene, our towns will be plagued with traffic and many other issues that come with urbanization. Ultimately our quality of life will be diminished if we don’t put a stop to this now. Write to your elected officials daily and let them know that you have zero tolerance for downzoning. Do the same for those running for office. Get the message out. We have plenty of affordable housing on the island. If at all possible, preserve the open space. Your kids might appreciate one day!

    Reply
  13. Bobbi

     /  July 30, 2013

    This area is definately in need of senior housing. But not 442 units on that acreage.

    Reply
  14. The Oak Tree Dairy was a fine neighbor until they decided that 440 condo was a replacement to the 37 one acres lots that the property is currently zoned for.

    I am a lifelong member of the Elwood community. My parents moved here in 1955 right after I was born. I am living in my third home in Elwood in 58 years. I am not in favor of the Engel Burman sale of the Oak Tree Dairy.

    This senior complex of 400 plus condos would negatively effect the Elwood School District.

    That property would make a great extension to “Elwood Park” or “37″ one acre homes.

    Reply
  15. Justin

     /  July 30, 2013

    Ask yourself why the developer is not offering to develop 37 one acre home lots? Dairy Barn wants to make a quick sale and the buyer wants to make a heft profit.

    Reply
  16. Artie

     /  July 31, 2013

    I was a supplier for Dairy Barn for many years. My understanding is that there isnt anyone in the family that wanted to run the Dairy Barn company anymore, so they decided to sell the entire chain, and the milk plant. The new “Barn” people have a large corporate attitude rather than the Mom and Pop/local style of the Cosman family. Another example of the decline and eventual extinction of small business. Anyone remember the ‘Stationary store’?All gone. Next we’ll all have no choice but to buy our bagels at Dunkin donuts, Are Italian Heros at Subway, and our pizza at Papa John’s

    Reply
  17. Rich

     /  July 31, 2013

    We have not yet begun to fight! The developer has proven to be no more than a opportunist demonstrated by their long history of targeting distressed situations as well as using tax
    incentives and development credits to produce huge profits from their projects. The
    Proposed down zoning of the Oak Tree Dairy property while adding nothing to the community will however damage the character and underlying single family residential home values.
    The property as currently zoned along with special use permit, has an intrinsic value that the owner is entitled to enjoy. It is not the responsibility of the Town Board to bestow a gift to the owner because of very poor over site and management of their business. This is nothing more than a citizens bail out all be it disguised as a seniors accommodation.
    The property could be a real benefit if the Town acquired it through eminent domain ( Federal Tax Exemption to the owner) by expanding the Elwood Park and converting the business offices to a public library. This would be a win, win.
    The Elwood School district could also use the property by consolidation the district schools into the current adjacent campus ( all security, maintenance, bus transportation, grounds, etc.) cost savings. The surplus land and facilities could then be sold to finance the new construction.
    We can only advocate for ourselves and use the influence of our voting power to have our elected officials represent the position of the people who have spoken and will remain committed to maintaining our valued community
    We will require a pledge of allegiance against cluster and over development from those who will seek our support in continuing their official posts.

    Reply
  18. Greg Gensman

     /  August 1, 2013

    Karen do you live in the area? Do you know Elwood rd? Do you know what’s the story behind this one?
    The fact is that like more than 200 workers had their lives up rooted due to this. Many over 40yrs. And just missed collection a pension and now have to start over. All had to take a big pay cut after relying on making a certain amount over the years.
    Before you (anybody) say oh this is good. Look behind the doors.
    And yes I do know what I am talking about cause I worked for Oaktree dairy for more than 12 years

    Reply
  19. Marc

     /  August 1, 2013

    Its kind of ridiculus for someone that lives in Ohio who admittedly doesnt know what the supply and demand statistics of this area are to be saying what she thinks the area needs. I think that people should actually educate themselves before making irresponsible comments. Zoning laws were instituted to protect communities from developers who have only their own profit motives involved and they are not meant to last “forever” but instead until they are determined by residents to no longer suit the needs of the community.

    Reply
  20. Lori

     /  February 4, 2014

    There are comments here that clearly think like real estate agents. If my parents needed a place to stay, my door is always open…not a $500,000 condo expense. And oh by the way, my husband is 55 years old and we have 5 children. 55 is NOT a senior number in 2014. Our Elwood area is a beautiful community with single family homes. The current zoning of the Oaktree Dairy Farms is the perfect zoning to match our beautiful community…NOT the STACK em’ AND PACK em’ mind set!

    Reply
  21. Stephen Alexander

     /  February 16, 2014

    Just another reason everyone is leaving Long Island. No matter how nice it could be, it seems people go out of their way to make doing anything far more difficult then it needs to be. Move to Raleigh, tons of beautiful $300,000 3500sq ft homes brand new just waiting for you…..oh yea and jobs and beautiful weather.

    Reply

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