Dairy Barns are quickly disappearing from the Long Island landscape, and the reasons for the loss are not completely clear. There are now only twelve left, and in all likelihood those will be gone within a year as well. Employees are losing their jobs, stores are being sold off, and Long Island is losing a tradition.
Most of what I know is from John Abbate’s blog post of about a year ago in which he gives some explanation, but it does not seem complete. Abbate interviews a former Dairy Barn executive who attributed the downturn on such factors as the growth of Walmarts, the recent recession, and the fact that gas stations now sell groceries. It all makes for a lot to contend with, but as for an explanation of why Dairy Barns are being sold off, I am not sure it completely explains it. Many of these same conditions have existed for some time. I posted a response to Abbate to try to get more information a few days ago, but I have not heard back.
The Oak Tree Dairy is the parent company of Dairy Barn located in Elwood, Long Island. It was the Oak Tree Dairy that, under the leadership of Deiter Cosman, launched the Dairy Barn stores in 1961. Today Oak Tree Dairy is in talks with The Engel Burman Group to sell its Elwood location to be converted to an age-restricted condominium community. Relations between the dairy and the surrounding community aren’t all milk and cookies. There is no mention of Oak Tree in Abbate’s post. Oak Tree is now threatening to increase production in its facility if it is not sold. This appears to be a tactic to irritate neighbors and make them more amenable to the sale of the property.
We are now seeing a continuous turnover of Dairy Barn Stores to a new chain, simply called The Barn. While Abbatte does talk about these new “Barn” stores, he implies that The Barn bought the Dairy Barn franchise in 2010, but did not acquire the naming rights to Dairy Barn. Is this possible? Can you buy a store but not get the right to use its name?
The Barn is a non-union shop, while Dairy Barns are union. Presumably, employees of The Barn are getting paid less and have less benefits than the disappearing Dairy Barn staff. Two of the still-standing Dairy Barns can trace their existence back to the original early 1960’s locations, the South Farmingdale and Melville stores. Consider this is a photographers alert to anyone who wants a photo of an original still standing Dairy Barn; this is probably your last chance to get a shot.
The Dairy Barn demise is a relatively recent development. In 2005, The New York Times was praising the Dairy Barn success story and quoted CFO Charlene Cosman (who I am only guessing is the daughter of founder Deiter Cosman’s) as saying, “We’re the ultimate definition of a convenience store.” There were 51 Dairy Barns at the time of the story, in 2010 there were still 44.
Only on Long Island is a procedure usually reserved for banking and car washes also provided for groceries. Deanna Verbouwents writes in her blog, “The thought of going into a supermarket with two children is so overwhelming, and time-consuming, the mere thought of going into a supermarket makes me cry. But wait, there’s Dairy Barn!” She is expressing a thought many islanders share. The tradition may continue on the island, but not for much longer at Dairy Barn locations. For reasons that have not been completely made clear to us, the stores we have become accustomed to driving through for emergency sustenance will no longer be quite the same.