The owner of Kings Park’s only bakery says two booths selling cookies, bread and pies at the hamlet’s Sunday farmers market unfairly cut into his business.
“A farmers market is supposed to be farmers who come and sell their products,” said Gabe Shtanko, who owns Park Bake Shop with his wife, Lucy. “They’re not supposed to be bringing big businesses from outside of town to compete with our town.”
Shtanko, who has watched about a dozen bakeries go out of business in Smithtown and Babylon over the last 20 years, said he is frustrated that one of the farmers market vendors, Southampton-based Blue Duck Bakery, is “10 times the size of me” and from out of town.
Blue Duck runs four cafes on Long Island’s East End and sells its artisan bread to more than 100 restaurants and markets, including nine farmers markets. It employs 50 people, about four times as many as Park Bake Shop, which operates out of a shop at Main Street and East Northport Road with a few tables out front and baking equipment in the back.
Shtanko said the market has cost him 10 to 15 percent of his once-dependable, after-church trade in bread, rolls and muffins. Before he started baking less, “we were throwing bags and bags of bread away,” he said.
Keith Kouris, who runs Blue Duck with his wife, Nancy, said that Shtanko could open his own booth at the market, an idea that the Kings Park baker rejected. “If they would have come and asked me from the beginning,” he would have considered the possibility, Shtanko said. “At this point, I don’t want to be involved.”
Kouris also disagreed with Shtanko’s description of his business: “We’re not some big corporation or giant,” he said. “We do it with the sweat off our backs.”
Vendors at the market — which is set to open its seventh season on June 4 about a third of a mile down Main Street with around 10 booths — pay a fee of roughly $45 per day or $775 per season. Shtanko said he has to pay property taxes and rent, totaling about $120,000 a year, under an agreement with his landlord. His 12 employees are all locals, he said.
Protecting shops like his from what he called unfair competition is in the interest of a hamlet whose downtown already struggles with commercial vacancies, he said. Without those small businesses, “What are you going to have?” he asked. “Just nail salons and barbers.”
But Bernadette Martin, founder of Ligreenmarket.org, a group that runs farmers markets in Kings Park and three other locations on Long Island, said that excluding vendors like Blue Duck would be a mistake.
“Every time the market loses a producer, we lose diversity, and then we lose all the people from out of town, Commack and Smithtown, who come to visit the market,” she said.
A good market day brings about 400 people, she said — all of them potential customers for a business district that never recovered from the 1996 closing of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center.
Complicating matters is an increasingly competitive environment for farmers markets, Martin said. Long Island has about 50 of them, up from just six in 2000. Choosy shoppers now demand one-stop convenience, making baked goods just as important as produce, she said.
“If it’s just the farmstand, people don’t come back,” she said. “If they can’t get all the different products, then it’s a waste of their time.”
Shtanko has not called her about his concerns, she said. Shtanko has the support of Kings Park Chamber of Commerce president Tony Tanzi and Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio. Vecchio said in an interview that he would ask the town attorney to review the town’s contract with the market, but that there was little chance Shtanko would get relief this year.