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Gristmill: Dunkin’ or Nuttin’

Wed, 04/03/2024 - 11:26
A beacon of comfort and hope in an upstate town that’s otherwise seen better times.
Julie Greene

There’s an empty little grocery mart that’s begging to be revived. It sits at the top of Long Neck Boulevard in Flanders, the right side of Route 24 as you blow through that newish stoplight on your way to Riverhead. Across Long Neck is the gas station people always say has the best prices in town, regardless of the facts.

The store is more than shuttered, its metal grate brought down with the finality of hurricane or riot preparation. It’s sad, really, because within recent memory, 15 or 16 years ago, it was briefly open for business. I know because I lived down the street in the 2000s and was happy to be able to stroll the neighborhood and stop in there for a box of Lucky Charms for my oldest.

It may look like a dead zone, but not so fast. The search for a recession or depression-proof enterprise this side of the black market doesn’t always lead to 7-Eleven. A better answer is Dunkin’ Donuts.

You will recall that Southampton Town’s other graveyard for businesses was that dangerous-in, dangerous-out former hot dog purveyor more or less across County Road 39 from Hampton Oil Changer. Until Dunkin’ moved in, that is.

I couldn’t help thinking of this as we bombed upstate on Route 17 and saw — nay, thrilled at — the sheer number of Dunkin’ Donuts outlets right off the highway. Availed of, they were.

The uniformity of the American highway is generally pretty awful. With the exception of Dunkin’ Donuts, with its reliably flavorful joe and airy, sugary pastry items powering you along on your hours behind the wheel.

We had a room at a stately bed-and-breakfast in a struggling, faded-glory type of town. The breakfast part didn’t kick in until 9 in the morning, so we walked a half-mile to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts, with its bright orange, white, and fuchsia interior and friendly greetings at the counter.

It was the only game in town at that hour. Across the street was an abandoned supermarket for lease and a dollar store.

The hard times were exemplified by shrink-wrapped bundles of firewood for sale for $5 along the sidewalk, the display outfitted not with a coffee can for cash deposits but a padlocked metal box, next to it a warning: “Premises Under Surveillance.”

“Some stand,” I thought. “You wouldn’t see that on the East End of Long Island.” 

Funny, I can’t remember the last time I had a good feeling about this place. A feeling that would be enhanced by just one upstate touch down here — a Dunkin’ Donuts at the top of Long Neck Boulevard.

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