By Mahreen Khan and Dyondra Wilson
The state-run Taste NY Dix Hills pop-up installed two self-serve kiosks Sunday in an effort to avoid potential sanctions.
The venue, located on the LIE in Dix Hills has been operating since October, but has been in direct infringement of a 1956 federal law that restricts over-the-counter sales of goods and services in specified areas. In December of last year, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) agreed to grant the state 60 days to install the kiosks, according to a statement by the FHWA.
While it has not been made clear exactly how the pop-up was allowed to be built in violation of federal law, the company that operates Taste NY, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County, believes the kiosks now satisfy all federal regulations, according to executive director Gregory M. Sandor.
“This was a goal to meet the federal requirements to have the self-serve kiosks,” Sandor said.
The law provides that only grandfathered-in restaurants and travel stores on the New York State Thruway are allowed to have over-the-counter sales, according to DOT officials. Possible solutions are in the process of being drafted between the DOT and the FHWA.
The new kiosks were installed Sunday night and will be ready upon clearance by the IT department. Jobs of the roughly 15 employees who work at the Dix Hills shop remain secure.
“There’s no impact on our current employees at all,” Sandor said. “The bigger deal is the initiative of promoting farmers and putting the money into the local economy and educating the public of how important it is.”
Unless the DOT determines that the “new vending technologies, [self-serve kiosks], fit within the existing statutory framework,” by way of promoting agricultural tourism, the condition will remain temporary, according to the FHWA. Up to $1 billion worth of funding is set aside annually for NYS bridge and highway projects. This money, as well as project approval are at risk of being withheld by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The Broome County Taste NY shop is also in violation of this same law.
The newly renovated Long Island Welcome Center rest stop, which the Dix Hills chain is a part of, is a cultural hub for tourists and passersby – making the FHWA’s cooperation an asset to the state initiative.
“You see the welcome center and it’s a welcome sign,” Islip resident, Nancy Tidona, said.
In addition to generating $13.1 million in sales during the 2016 year, Taste NY is receiving positive feedback for promoting agricultural growth and tourism.
“It has the opportunity to open up new markets to people who otherwise might not be exposed to New York farm food and beverages,” Steve Ammerman, public affairs manager for the NY Farm Bureau, said.
In fact, a 2012 agricultural report set forth by NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found that Suffolk County “led the State in agricultural sales with more than $240 million in 2007.” And, according to Ammerman, the peninsula is routinely home to the top three producing counties in the state.
The initiative, proposed by Gov. Cuomo in 2013, prides itself on the use of local products. The mission was initially to “create opportunities for local producers to showcase their goods,” according to the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Jan. 13 request for proposals. Four of the more than 50 facilities that offer ready-to-go items including sandwiches, baked goods and coffee, are located on Long Island.
“It’s not only the direct link to supporting these farmers, but it’s a bigger vision for economic vitality and economic development,” Sandor said.
While Sandor promotes the technological shift to kiosks, arguing that it puts Taste NY ahead of the curve, some local residents feel differently.
“What are people going to do if they can’t get jobs because a machine is taking their place?” Islip resident and Taste NY customer Sal Tidona, asked.
Other customers are simply enjoying the attention the shop has brought to local farming communities. “I live on the East end,” Thomas Votino said. “So a lot of this stuff is from where I live.”
Though compliance with federal regulations will allow for the continuity of sales at Dix Hill’s Taste NY, this compliance is nothing more than a temporary condition. Discussions about the sanctions and operations are ongoing.