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Apr 22, 2009 2:06 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

As trade parade slows, coffee doesn't flow

Apr 22, 2009 2:06 PM

A cup of coffee.

For many, it’s an essential component of everyday life. Coffee is the eye-opener that makes starting the day possible and the pick-me-up that keeps you going in the afternoon. Relatively inexpensive, even at Starbucks, many people say it’s one of life’s simplest pleasures, a daily necessity that is taken for granted as an essential commodity.

For many local delicatessens and convenience stores, the cup of coffee is also the pillar that supports their businesses. Their profits may be derived primarily from prepared foods, but it is the thirst for a cup of Joe that brings the customers through the door.

Since the stock market collapse in the fall and the real estate decline that followed, work in the construction and service trades has dropped off steeply. As the size of crews has dwindled and the “trade parade” thins, many delis and coffee stops have felt the difference in their bottom lines.

At the 7-Eleven in Southampton Village, the epicenter of the South Fork’s commuter crush and one of the busiest branches of the convenience store chain in the country, 10,000 fewer cups of coffee are going through the doors each month this spring, compared to past years, a 20-percent drop.

“The biggest part of our business is the morning trade,” said Laurie DeFelice, the store’s manager. “Coffee is dropping, right along with the economy. It started going down in the fall, since the stock market [fell].”

Across the South Fork, deli owners told similar tales of their local areas: building has effectively stopped, so there is less work for landscapers, electricians and plumbers. The great torrent of workers that used to flow east every morning is now a trickle.

“I would say we’re down 60 percent from last year so far this spring,” said Tom McCormack, owner of Ronnie’s Deli in Montauk. “Without the construction guys, that’s our big thing in the morning. There’s nobody working out here.”

“Going back about a year, there was a line of traffic at 5:30 in the morning,” said Mike Mosolino, whose Deli Counter in Southampton sits at an infamous bottleneck on County Road 39. “We used to have to be here at 5 a.m. every morning. Now, we don’t. That early-morning buzz is not like it was.”

With the morning cups of coffee go sales of newspapers, breakfast sandwiches and donuts. Fewer workers passing through delis in the morning mean there are fewer in the area come lunchtime.

A local deli owner, who asked that neither he nor his business be identified, said he’s tracked the falling economy from across his counter.

“Crews that used to be five guys are now two, or one,” he said. “People who used to eat breakfast and lunch every day are now eating either a later breakfast or an earlier lunch so they only have one meal instead of two. Everything has been scaled back.”

Everett Griffiths said his business, the venerable Bucket’s Deli in East Hampton, has lost both the morning tradespeople and local residents who have been stung by the economy. “I know people who have been laid off,” he said “If they’re not working they’re not going out to have breakfast or coffee.”

Other business owners, some who have not suffered the same decline that others have, say that value consciousness may be helping them.

At the Hampton Coffee Company, disguised behind the rows of Range Rovers and Porsches, owner Jason Belkin said that not raising the prices for his hand-roasted coffee has actually grown his coffee-clutching crowds in the morning. As prices have gone up in other markets, his coffee prices have evened or undercut other coffee sellers, and the quality, he says, has upped its popularity.

The Starbucks corporation, which offers the most expensive but also some of the most popular cups of coffee around, declined to comment on how their volume of business has changed in the last several months. The company closed its Southampton store this month, but a spokesman said the Bridgehampton and East Hampton branches are doing well.

Devout coffee drinkers, not surprisingly, swear that their consumption will not abate almost no matter the economic situation.

“There’s no way I’m ever going to cut that out—no way,” Ron Lajda, an HVAC contractor, said with a scoff, while paying for a cup of coffee at the Bridgehampton Delicatessen on a recent early morning. “I’m drinking more, I’ve got to work twice as hard now.”

Other factors are also putting the pinch on deli owners. Last summer’s ballooning gasoline prices drove up the cost of food products. Gas prices have come back down, but food prices haven’t, several deli owners said.

“Food costs have come up so much that some delis have out-priced themselves,” said Anthony Dagostino, owner of the Moriches Bagel Deli in Center Moriches. “Years back, you’d go into a deli and get a lunch for $5. An egg sandwich was $1.50, a buttered roll and a cup of coffee $1. Now, an egg sandwich in some places is $4.50. Lunch is $12, $15. Who’s got $20 a day to spend in a deli?”

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Good article. I'm a big coffee drinker, but prices have gone up a bit to the point where coffee and a buttered roll at 7-Eleven in Southampton is about $3.50, which, if you really think of the relatively modest ingredients involved, is a bit of a gouge.

The other influence on the decrease in coffee sales may be that many employers now have one-cup machines for employees, where it only costs about 40-50 cents per cup. So, for many, why not wait for that caffeine hit until at work?
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Apr 22, 09 3:15 PM
You could not pay me to walk into the 7-11 in Southampton or Westhampton before noon.. Only so many times I can here "eh ma-me"
By NorthSea0007 (5), northsea on Apr 22, 09 4:25 PM
*hear (oops!)
By NorthSea0007 (5), northsea on Apr 22, 09 4:25 PM
i thought the article was about coffee...
By merchant on main (3), westhampton on Apr 22, 09 5:34 PM
Hampton Coffee Co is the BEST
By Lefty46 (56), Westhampton on Apr 23, 09 12:11 PM
try Thunder & Lightning - Thunder Island Coffee !
this article IS about coffee ... can u 2 behind the counter please sell me a coffee and SHOW ME TWO GREEN CARDS !!!
By david h (405), southampton on Apr 24, 09 9:28 AM
We have started to use our coffee pot and we saved $45.00 in 1 month by bringing our own coffee to work. My husband does buy 1 on the way home but that's $1.25 each. Now if I could only get him to quit smoking, lol. That would save alot too!
By LovedHerTown (132), southampton on Apr 24, 09 1:28 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By bangoo, ahssa on Apr 27, 09 8:52 AM