With the closure of restaurants across the state, the impact goes beyond the owners and their employees. There’s a ripple effect that hits the restaurant supply industry, and oyster farmers on the North Fork are feeling it as precautions are taken in response to the spread of COVID-19.
In response, many places are finding ways to stay open and get oysters out to the public. Southold Bay Oysters decided to open up its roadside stand a few weeks early.
“Usually, we don’t have much activity in the winter,” said co-owner Dave Daly. “We figured we might as well open it, in case people want oysters. It’s just so much easier and a little less anxiety provoking than to go into a store with lots of people.”
Daly found himself frequenting the self-serving stands more than the stores for things like eggs and wood, and realized opening his roadside stand could contribute to that.
“It was so easy, and I didn’t have to worry about being in a store or being close to anyone,” he said. “You can’t get everything from a self-serve stand, but for the things you can, it’s been a nice way to get out of the house. I kind of look forward to it now.”
Cornell Oysters in Southold has started offering free local delivery when ordering at least two dozen oysters and has been selling more oysters than normal from its roadside stands. They also accept and encourage payment through Venmo.
“Only in the last couple days have I noticed that we are selling more,” said manager Marta Thomas. “I think it’s because more people are staying out here. People know that it’s a food that’s there. They don’t have to go into the supermarket to get it.”
But for many farmers, the stands and new delivery options aren’t enough, and the mass cutdown on businesses ordering from them will force them to re-evaluate in the future.
Peconic Gold Oysters has shifted to a delivery and farmstand-only approach, offering oysters by the dozen, pre-shucked oysters and other products, but it won’t be enough to cover a season that owner Matt Ketchum expected to grow sales.
“I made the major mistake of saving a lot of stuff until now to try to get new accounts — this is supposed to be my breakout year,” he said. “I have a lot of beautiful product, and I’m now desperate to just get them off the farm. Every day on my farm they’re gonna cost me more money.”
Cornell Oysters has also felt a major drop in sales.
“We actually had a really great beginning of the year and a really great week and then this week, zero,” Thomas said. “We called our wholesaler, and every single one of our New York accounts is closed.”
Although the uncertainty of how long this period could last is scary, Ketcham is happy knowing local people are willing to support his business.
“People are looking to support guys like me, local businessmen and farmers, maybe a little bit more. I’ve seen a little increase in farm stand sales, which I definitely appreciate,” he said. “I’ll be okay. I’m just really worried about my business.”