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Long Island libraries evolve, and add coffee shops

The sitting area in the Heineman Café has

The sitting area in the Heineman Café has a fireplace and views of the outdoor courtyard at the Northport library. Credit: Heather Walsh

If you’d like coffee or a scone with your library book or magazine, make your way not to Starbucks but to that area just across from the main entrance or adjacent to the periodicals.

Jo Ann Cavallino, 55, of Holtsville, stops in at least once a week at the Sachem Public Library in Holbrook. She recently met a friend there, at the full-service coffee shop run by Shirley-based organic roaster Tend Coffee.

Cavallino likes to pick up a freshly made spinach and feta scone at the shop, Tend Coffee@Sachem Library. The space opened in December and is diagonally to the right of the main entrance. It has four counter stools and opens into an adjacent periodicals seating area, which has five tables with 16 chairs, four lounge chairs and a fireplace.

“It’s so nice because, even if you’re reading a magazine, you have a cup of coffee,” Cavallino said. “Or if it’s during lunch, and I’m in a rush, I can maybe grab something, and know it’s tasteful. I think it adds a lot to this library. It’s a nice place to come and relax.”

A growing number of libraries across Long Island have cafes or offer vending machine options as they evolve to serve their communities’ needs. Administrators said they are a convenience for customers and a way to draw crowds for other services and programs.

“It’s a great asset for the library because it’s a destination for our residents,” said James Olney, director of the Northport-East Northport Public Library. “They often spend many hours here, and rather than having to go out to get food or refreshments, they can do so right on site.”

The Northport main library and its East Northport branch both have cafes. Officials at the East Northport branch claim it is home to the first library cafe on Long Island. It opened after the building was renovated in 1997 and was followed a few months later by the main branch’s cafe when that building’s renovations were completed.

Olney said that during the day, patrons buy pre-roasted coffee that is brewed on site and bagels that come from a local commercial shop. Other products include soda, cookies, ice cream, candy and yogurt.

The cafe is also useful for breaks during long programs like six-hour defensive driving courses or theater intermissions.

“This way people can come up and stretch their legs and get some refreshments, and they don’t necessarily have to run out to a store and come back again,” Olney said. “And even when students are coming directly from school, and they won’t be having their dinner until very late, they come in for something that can hold them over.”

The shop is staffed by library personnel.

“Many of the libraries have opted for a coffee vending machine, but we prefer to have something that has a little more variety, where we have the ability to modify what’s being offered because we have the ability to offer it ourselves,” Olney said. “People also want to not only socialize with their neighbors but have that face-to-face interaction. So many times now, people are not only dealing with machines, whether they go to self-check at their grocery stores or if they are even on a telephone — they’re always working on automated phone systems. And we try to keep the people in the service.”

Syosset Public Library added a small cafe with two vending machines and a coffee machine when it was expanded and remodeled 10 years ago. Director Karen Liebman said when the concept was originally floated, parents liked the idea that their school-age children could stay at the library rather than run across the street to a gas station for refreshments.

“It was a matter of a safety perspective,” Liebman said. “Also, it has been very convenient over the years to say, ‘Eating is in the cafe area,’ ” which avoids having patrons eating in other areas of the building. “They are allowed to bring covered drinks in the library, but food is only allowed in that area,” Liebman added.

Sachem had three different vendors since 2001 before Tend Coffee started in December, said Lauren Gilbert, the library’s head of community services. Tend Coffee now offers more options. It has six blends of coffee that come from a variety of international beans roasted at its main coffeehouse in Shirley, as well as espresso, lattes and cappuccino. Not to mention the fresh pastries, including a new cheese Danish.

Gilbert said Tend Coffee@Sachem Library is “a huge draw” that “adds to the experience of the library” as a destination.


Married owners Susan and Daniel Kennedy are certified organic coffee roasters and graduates of Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. She has a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and he has a bachelor’s in food service management. They both have master’s degrees in food service education.

The Kennedys, of Moriches, started home roasting around 2010. In 2011, they expanded operations to a warehouse in Center Moriches and went around to farmers markets before opening their Shirley coffeehouse in 2013.

The couple’s connection to the Sachem library goes back to 2014, when Susan, 40, gave a coffee lecture and Daniel, 41, began teaching cooking classes there.

Susan said Tend adjusts the menu depending on programs being offered at the library. For instance, popcorn is available for Thursday movie nights, and soft pretzels are brought in for the teenage crowd on Fridays. Scones and iced tea were available for a recent children’s garden tea party. They also made egg creams for a doo-wop show on May 7.

“The programs make a big difference with the client rush,” said Susan Kennedy. With about 100 customers a day, she said the shop has “a developing clientele. It’s definitely growing.”

And evolving.

“When we first started, people wanted hot coffee. Now they are trying new things,” she said, like lattes, cappuccino, as well as pastries, muffins and croissants. The Sachem store serves one blend a day that it rotates from Tend’s blends, which are available for purchase by the bag. It also has decaf options.

Daniel Holohan, 64, a pastor at Community of Christ Healing Center in Rocky Point who lives in Wading River, drives three days a week to the Sachem library in Holbrook to do research on a book he is writing. He said he enjoys the atmosphere, designated quiet area and often stops by Tend for coffee or chips.

He said the shop has developed a buzz. “It does help that it’s good coffee,” Holohan said. “It’s a big part of the atmosphere at the library and people utilize it a lot.”

The Levittown Public Library is hoping for similar success with its planned small eatery. The library is aiming for a July soft opening of the space in between the children and adult services sections. It will feature self-serve vending machines for snacks, soda, water and coffee, said assistant director Maryann Ferro. She said the library plans to offer “a majority” of healthy options and that the space is in response to requests from the public.

Ferro said the eatery will be a designated place for drinks and food and will have a countertop with three chairs and two tables with chairs around them.

“They are very excited about it,” she said of the library’s patrons. “They can’t wait for it to open.”


Public libraries aren’t just places to borrow books or magazines. Over the years, movie and video game rentals and computer training have been added. Now many libraries on Long Island are increasingly providing access to the latest technologies, in addition to job training tools, lectures and even access to genealogical research.

It’s all part of being a destination and learning center for the community, said Lauren Gilbert, head of community services at Sachem Public Library in Holbrook.

“Over the past year or two, we’ve really increased our offerings in new technologies,” she said. That includes two 3-D printers, a laser engraver and an embroidery and sewing machine. The library also has virtual reality equipment with games and learning software for patrons to try on Wednesday afternoons and Friday evenings. It also has robotics lessons for children and teens.

“We like to be a place for people to expand their worlds,” Gilbert said.

In addition to the new technologies, some libraries offer live performances, e-books, audiobooks and the ability to borrow passes to many attractions and museums across Long Island and in New York City, including the American Museum of Natural History; Museum of Modern Art; Brooklyn Botanic Garden; Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum; Cradle of Aviation Museum and the Fire Island Lighthouse.

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