For over fifty years, Long Island locals have enjoyed a luxury nonexistent in the rest of the country, a little drive-in convenience store called Dairy Barn. Once in abundance throughout the island, they are sadly growing more scarce with each passing year and their extinction would appear immenent. But they can’t take the memories away.
The story begins in East Northport, circa 1961, where the Oak Tree Dairy Farm was struggling because people no longer preferred to use milkmen. Perhaps taking a cue from the growing fast food industry, they decided to offer a similar car-based convenience, a drive-thru dairy store. The first Dairy Barn, complete with red paint and white trim, wooden fence and silo, caught the eye and attention of the locals. Soon after, little red barns were popping up from one end of Long Island to the other. They looked like this:
(Editor’s Note: What follows is a pretty annoying video. It also happens to be the only footage available on YouTube of a Dairy Barn. If you have better footage, or you know of some, please let me know so that I can remove this. 🙂 )
The concept was simple – Drive up to the window, tell the cashier what you wanted, and wait a few moments while they gathered up your groceries and gave you a total. Pay with cash (remember when we used to do that?) and be on your way – food in hand without ever leaving the comfort of your car, or the warmth. Dairy Barns did especially good business when the weather turned cold, especially for parents of young kids. Oh sure, you could also walk into a Dairy Barn; people did it all the time, but then you were missing out on what made them so unique. It should also be noted that all this convenience did cost you a little by way of slightly-higher prices than your typical store. People were willing to pay.
For decades, Dairy Barn thrived across Long Island, but things started rapidly changing for the worse, as the small company entered the next century. Although they boasted upwards of 70 locations at their height, by 2005 that number was down 51; by 2010, only 44 remained. Today, there are only a mere 7 locations left, and if the past is any indicator, their days may be numbered.
But for millions of Long Islanders, both former and current, memories of Dairy Barn won’t soon fade. Countless 1970s kids sat in the backseat while mom picked up a dozen eggs and some Entenmann’s donuts, then drove through themselves once they got their license to drive. And if you are one of them, we do hope that you’ll take a moment to share your memories of these iconic convenience stores with us in our comments section below, as we pay tribute to all those little red barns that were always such a welcoming sight.