Ever since the first Dairy Barn locations opened on Long Island in the 1960s, the area’s first convenience store chain has been the go-to for people needing milk, bread and other essentials in a hurry.
Now the company that owns the original chain’s remaining properties has put most of them up for sale or lease, and the ubiquitous red-silo-topped stores face an uncertain future.
It all started with one location in 1961, when young Swiss immigrant Dieter Cosman had an idea to help sell more of his family-owned dairy’s milk. His dad, Edgar Cosman, had purchased a failing dairy in East Northport in 1939 and several years later turned Oak Tree Farms into a profitable milk wholesaler.
When the milk delivery business began to slow in the late 1950s, Dieter Cosman soon came up with the drive-thru convenience store concept, complete with the familiar red silo and barn-shaped building, where customers could drive up and get Oak Tree’s dairy products handed to them through their car windows.
Needless to say, the business took off, and Dairy Barn stores began popping up on many of Long Island’s main thoroughfares. At its peak, Dairy Barn had as many as 70 area locations.
A few decades later, the Cosman family closed the Oak Tree dairy on Elwood Road and sold the land to the Engel Burman Group, which developed the 37-acre property into a 246-condominium community for people aged 55 and over called the Seasons at Elwood. The Cosmans also sold 38 of the remaining Dairy Barn properties in 2009 to Long Island City-based Simi Enterprises, a family-owned company that began managing the convenience stores under their Loop Food Management affiliate.
“When we took over, we changed the name to The Barn. We made some changes, upgrading the product line and the stores’ point-of-sale system,” said Simi principal Aegina Angeliades, who along with two fellow company principals, her sister Irena Angeliades and brother-in-law Sean Maguire, operated the bulk of the chain for more than 10 years.
Along the way, Angeliades said the company leased or sold about 10 of the convenience stores to other operators and they closed a handful of locations that were underperforming. Then when COVID hit, business boomed.
“We had lines around the corner, and everything was flying off the shelves,” Angeliades said. “It put us back on the map.”
By the beginning of 2021, Simi made a deal with a company called GFG, which stands for Greek From Greece, to lease 28 of The Barn stores. But after operating the chain for nearly two years, GFG couldn’t make a go of it and ended up returning the stores to Simi in Nov. 2022.
“Their concept wasn’t solidified, and their products weren’t going over very well,” Angeliades said.
Recently, Simi listed 17 of the convenience-store properties for sale with Syosset-based Sovereign Realty Group. Clem Coté, Sovereign’s managing principal, said as the brokerage firm’s marketing efforts took shape, they realized they were marketing a piece of Long Island history.
“Almost everyone we spoke to had a fond memory of a particular Dairy Barn that they visited with their parents as a child. From an emotional standpoint, there was a tangible feeling of nostalgia we typically don’t feel in conversations about other deals,” Coté told LIBN. “From a business standpoint, nothing like it on any significant scale has been really seen since, and double drive-thru buildings are almost extinct or impossible to get approved in today’s municipal environment.”
And despite the challenges of selling the properties with their small and unique footprints, Coté believes there are many creative uses for the spaces, such as small food concepts seeking to offer drive-up service.
“Many of these sites are situated on prominent corners within major thoroughfares, so the ideas are endless from food use, to retail, to medical,” Coté says. “For example, we have approached some of the major pharmacies with the idea of establishing a drive-up pharmacy, blood testing, or even vaccine service. We are excited to see what unfolds as we take these properties through our marketing process.”
Most of the convenience store properties listed for sale have a lot size of about a quarter of an acre with the largest being a little over a half-acre. The sizes of the stores range from just 350 square feet in Ronkonkoma to 1,034 square feet in Farmingville. Offering prices vary from $700,000 for a property in Patchogue to $1.1 million for properties in Deer Park and Massapequa.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs like Robert Abatemarco are bullish on The Barn and its future as a convenience store. Abatemarco purchased two Barn properties in Merrick and West Babylon for $1 million each and is in the midst of renovating and improving the stores.
“We’re doing some minor work right now, touching up the stores and adding some features to make it look more current,” Abatemarco said.
The new Barn owner grew up in his family’s business, a commercial interior design and build firm called Robelan Displays, which produced custom cabinetry and countertops for food service companies and other retailers, including major chains and department stores.
It all started with Abatemarco’s grandfather Andrew, who became a store-window decorator in Brooklyn after serving in World War II. Eventually, Abatemarco’s father Robert Sr. expanded the business and relocated it to a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Uniondale.
“We went from one employee to as many as 65 and we sold all the major department stores and chain stores throughout the country,” said Robert Abatemarco Sr. “Then we got involved in the food service industry and that was our main focus for the last 25 years.”
The company was in business for 72 years before closing in March 2022. Now the family has pitched in to build up their new convenience store venture, adding offerings like multiple coffee blends, a rewards program, and the ability to pre-order online.
The Abatemarcos have also brought back long-time Dairy Barn manager Mike Silverman, who had managed the Merrick location and several others in the chain, to be a minority partner and manage the family’s two locations. The Merrick store is expected to open by May 1 and the West Babylon store soon after. If it goes well, Abatemarco says he wants to expand.
“Our ultimate goal is to do a brand refresh within three years and we’re going to try to franchise this concept across the country,” he said. “We want to bring in some investors and some franchise people who know how to put it together.”
Abatemarco is just one of several independent operators of The Barn stores who have leased or purchased locations in places like St. James, Bellmore, East Northport, Kings Park, Baldwin, Deer Park and others.
Though it has put most of the locations on the market, Simi principals plan to run a few of The Barn stores themselves, including one that Irena Angeliades operates in Huntington and another that’s soon to reopen in Lindenhurst.
But the ultimate fate of the bulk of the convenience store properties is anyone’s guess.
Aegina Angeliades says the stores her company put on the market are a good opportunity for anyone who loves the Dairy Barn concept, adding that the company will also consider leasing some of the properties if they don’t get sold.
“Whatever makes the most sense,” she said.