Just as the ice business is about to heat up for beach and barbecue season, Long Island's largest producer of bagged cubes, Nuzzolese Bros. Ice of Hicksville, has halted production.
But the family-owned company, founded in 1917, is not going out of business -- not by a long shot.
In a joint venture, a former competitor, Canadian-based Arctic Glacier, is taking over the making of ice in Hicksville while Nuzzolese concentrates on what company officials see as their greatest strength -- distributing it.
In an arrangement that Nuzzolese says is unusual in the ice business, Arctic is setting up a new and larger plant in a renovated building at 35 Engel St. in Hicksville, which also will serve as Nuzzolese's new headquarters.
A 75,000-square-foot operation with a 450 tons-a-day capacity, it's scheduled to begin production by the end of this month.
In return, Arctic has turned over to Nuzzolese all 2,000 of its New York metropolitan area customers, along with 11 distributors. Nuzzolese had more than 1,500 customers of its own.
Nuzzolese remains an independent company and all of the ice sold in this region will be branded Nuzzolese, not Arctic. The companies did not release financial terms of their deal.
Nuzzolese's 150 tons-a-day Southampton plant, acquired in 2012, has halted production and will remain a distribution terminal, said Vincent Nuzzolese, president and chief executive and a grandson of the company founder, Gus Nuzzolese.
Nuzzolese workers involved in distribution, such as truck drivers, whose numbers vary seasonally, will be retained and their ranks augmented, while about 10 ice production workers in Hicksville are being given first preference for jobs with Arctic, said Nuzzolese.
Arctic, experiencing difficulty with its New York area distribution, originally wanted to buy Nuzzolese Bros. outright, said Nuzzolese. "I said 'No.' My three boys are in the business, my wife and a cousin. I'm not prepared to sell."
But Nuzzolese did need a larger and more up-to-date ice production plant to replace the company's first plant, a 150 tons-a-day operation built in 1978 by Nuzzolese's father and two uncles at 68 East Marie St. in Hicksville. Until then, the company had distributed ice produced by other companies.
"It takes an incredible amount of capital to build a spectacular facility like this, and Arctic Glacier has that," said Nuzzolese. The high costs include equipment as well as electrical, plumbing and piping. Arctic wouldn't disclose its cost in Hicksville.
Collaboration among competitors is common among large companies, and not unheard of among smaller ones, said Sabra Brock, interim dean of the Touro College Graduate School of Business in Manhattan. The Arctic-Nuzzolese deal is unusual, she said, in that it's not simply a case of two competitors coming together to, for example, take a bigger share of their market, but one in which each collaborator has a shortcoming it hopes to solve -- Nuzzolese's aged plant and Arctic's distribution issues.
"What's more unusual about this one is that it's based on expressed needs by both organizations," she said.
Arctic operates about 60 ice-making plants in Canada and the United States, serving more than 75,000 retail customers. As part of the deal with Nuzzolese, it halted production at a plant in Brooklyn, but the building is being used now by Nuzzolese for distribution. Another Arctic plant, in Mamaroneck, still makes ice and Nuzzolese uses that site as well, also for distribution.
Although Nuzzolese Bros. has diversified over the years into firewood, ice melter and dry ice -- selling it, not producing it -- the business remains seasonal, with demand for ice rising with the temperatures. "Our season kicks off on Mother's Day and, depending on the weather, we'll stay busy until Labor Day," said Bobbi Nuzzolese, Vincent's wife and the company's accounts receivable manager. "It peaks again around the holidays and after New Year's drops off" by about a third.
And, says Vincent Nuzzolese, even business during summer can sag if the weather doesn't cooperate. "There's nothing we can do to overcome 70-degree temperatures on a rainy weekend in July," he said.
Industry executives say only two other plants on Long Island produce ice, Long Island Ice and Fuels in Riverhead, founded in 1880 and producing 250 tons a day, according to co-owner Chris Conklin, and Apple Ice in Deer Park, where executives didn't return a phone call.
Gus Nuzzolese, Vincent's grandfather, launched the business when he began peddling ice door to door to homes and businesses for "ice boxes," the precursors of refrigerators.
He later founded Port Washington Ice, a distributor. In 1947, with refrigerators having slowed business to a crawl, Gus opened a restaurant in Port Washington and gave the ice business to his three sons, one of whom, Vincent, now deceased, was the current president's father.
In 1993, the ice business was purchased from the three brothers by the next generation -- current president Vincent and his brother Michael. They changed the name to Nuzzolese Bros. Michael has since been bought out.
Today, Vincent, Bobbi and their three sons, aged 26, 24 and 21, are helping run the company, along with one of Vincent's cousins.
For Vincent Nuzzolese, that fact and the Arctic deal fulfill his two greatest wishes for the company -- to have another generation take it over and to have a state-of-the-art plant. "The next generation is here and someone else is building me a dream plant," he said.