After “King” George Emrick sold his Bargain Bilge property in Patchogue, he said he was moved by hundreds of calls and texts, congratulating him and sharing fond memories of visiting his marine supply store.
Then, after learning ABH Realty Group Inc, a Melville-based developer representing Starbucks, was the buyer, hundreds of residents took to the internet to oppose the prospect of a corporate entity with a drive-thru cropping up at the entryway to their village.
On Wednesday evening, representatives of Starbucks went before the village Zoning Board of Appeals seeking special permits to develop a drive-thru, have 15 parking spaces instead of the required 25 and erect expansive signage.
The developer’s current plan is to demolish the old Bargain Bilge at 159 West Main Street to construct a 2065-square-foot Starbucks, which in addition to a drive-thru lane, would feature a walk-up window and an outdoor seating area.
Big business in a small town
Many villagers take pride in knowing Patchogue’s revitalization over the past several years occurred without the help of big corporations.
“Patchogue is very special to me,” said Jessica Lukas. “I see the turnaround that it’s done and it’s a great thing, and I just think we should kinda keep the small-town vibe that we have now. For [Starbucks] to come in now and compromise Toast [Coffeehouse] and [The] Bean [of Patchogue Coffee House] and all the other places on Main Street I think is just ridiculous.”
Lukas, 38, began a “Stop Starbucks on Main” petition on change.org. which currently has 978 signatures, nearly reaching its goal of 1,000.
In lieu of a Starbucks, Lukas said she would prefer an independently-owned retail storefront at the village’s entryway.
Public opposition to Starbucks in the village on the grounds that a corporation is undesirable was welcome at Wednesday’s meeting, and many public comments entered into record addressed such discontent.
However, both Starbucks representatives and Zoning Board of Appeals members emphasized the pending decision to approve special permits would not be grounded on a bias against a particular business for its ownership structure or values.
Traffic and Safety
Only a handful of members of the public chose to speak into the record at Wednesday night’s meeting. Among them was Jeffrey Berthold, who started a “Say NO to Patchogue Village Starbucks” Facebook Group open to the public. The life-long East Patchogue resident and father of two likes to walk around the village and drop into Roast with his wife for a mocha latte when they can spare the time.
In a telephone interview prior to Wednesday night’s meeting, Berthold expressed the worry that any drive-thru on that corner would create “a monster,” quashing the walkability enjoyed by his family and others.
Some villagers fear pedestrians could be endangered by drivers turning in and out of the property’s sole entrance and exit on West Main Street.
Representatives of Starbucks claimed in the meeting that plans have accounted for this issue by prohibiting left turns in or out of the parking lot with a concrete divider in the center of the West Main Street curb cut.
Another concern is the drive-thru, currently planned as a 10-car-cue, could back up onto West Main Street, resulting in higher traffic at a major intersection.
Berthold, who said he owns shares of Starbucks stock, understands the company’s interest in the area, but feels it has no place in the village.
“I’m happy when businesses of any kind want to move into our area,” Berthold, 35, said. “We just wanna be smart and build things that they’re safe for people and that you dont get in a traffic accident or discourage people from coming to our community because there’s absolutely no where to park.”
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown
Before “King” Emrick, sold his property to ABH Realty Group Inc. in a multi-million dollar deal, he hoped to reach an agreement with a hotel developer. Emrick, 55, said he was dismayed to see those plans fall apart “at the eleventh hour.”
Now that he believes — but is not certain — that his old marine supply storefront will transform into a Starbucks, he has mixed emotions.
On one hand, he feels Starbucks will bolster Patchogue’s “panache” other residents believe is owed to small businesses who invested in the village’s revitalization. Emrick explains that the company’s interest now showcases these small businesses’ successes and is “a tribute to the town and the village and the mayor.”
As a business owner for over three decades, Emrick has been no stranger to competition. Perhaps it is with this experience that he does not share some villagers’ worries that Starbucks will hurt independent coffeehouses.
“First Roast came into town. Now was it fair to Roast that they let the Bean in on the next corner?”
He is confident that the mom-and-pop coffeehouses, as well as the bars and restaurants, will be just fine if Starbucks moves in down the block.
On the other hand, Emrick is now learning the significance his business held not only for him, but for the community. He said he saw an outpour of praise from the community, through calls, texts and photos and memories shared on social media declaring his store and “landmark” enjoyed by multiple generations.
“I had no idea, no idea the impact that we had,” he said. “Boating is a family thing.”
Although Emrick has sold the property, he has no plans to retire. He will now operate exclusively online, selling marine supplies through his website, www.boatbandit.com as well as through Amazon. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Emrick proclaimed that he has lived life “always running a hundred miles an hour,” and will be sure to fill his less dense schedule with other lifelong passions. “There’s nothing wrong with playing golf a few days a week is there?”
As the Zoning Board of Appeals closed the meeting, it was clear that the primary source of deliberation going forward in the approval process will be the drive-thru and limited parking. A significant portion of the board’s questions revolved around the traffic and safety concerns of this coupling many residents deemed dangerous.
The board did not set a date for a follow-up, nor did it provide a timeline for when they may announce their decision on the issuance of special permits. Please follow GreaterPatchogue for further updates.