Family Dynasty Goes Green
By Linda Leuzzi
August 24, 2017
The Big Green Egg kamado grill is stationed inside the hardware entrance to the new Brinkmann Hardware, one of the latest merchandise offerings along with the nuts, bolts and everything else that holds a house together. There’s also Carhartt Apparel, casual wear including jeans and tops that were never offered before. And check out aisle 16, where the big stuffed kangaroo looms. “We don’t have a toy store anymore in Sayville, so we added this so people can stay local,” said Ben Brinkmann.
The long-awaited new Brinkmann building, a visual evolution in Sayville since two parcels on Railroad Avenue were first purchased in December 2006, then a third one two years later, opened July 31. The 22,000-square-foot building that spans two floors offers 70,000 brand new items including paint and wallpaper, but it’s also a cutting-edge green environmental wonder with 404 solar fields on the roof and a geothermal heating and cooling system, making it the second net-zero-certified facility in New York State.
Their Miller Place location in 2016 was the first net-zero-certified facility in New York State and the first net-zero retail business in the country. (Whatever energy is used by the building on an annual basis that’s roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created is considered net-zero.)
Part of the True Value coop, their Foster Avenue location is still open. But not for long. “We’re liquidating the store until we’re out of everything,” said Ben. “We expect a couple of weeks more.”
It’s a big jump for the Brinkmann family. Tony and Pat Brinkmann started their first hardware store in Sayville in 1976 when there were three in the hamlet. Growing up, when Ben, Hank and Mary got older, they would sit around the family kitchen table on Sundays mulling over future plans and locations while sharing Fritzsche’s buns.
The paint and hardware departments on Railroad Avenue have their own entryway; the arm juts eastward. “We have it in the decision center,” said Mary Brinkmann Neimeth, where a long table sits among the samples. They offer Benjamin Moore Century.
“It’s a nice paint and we’re one of the few stores on Long Island who offer it,” said staffer Melissa Moorman.
Whose idea was it to go green?
“All three of us morphed into the idea,” explained Ben, who sat with Hank and Mary around the conference table on the second floor, by the administrative offices. “We started in Miller Place and were into solar. Our solar thermal contractor brought up the geothermal possibility and educated us. The more we learned about it, the more we wanted to do it.”
The green endeavor was a real commitment. For one thing, the geothermal process works off groundwater. “There are two supply wells, 120 feet deep, to go down to pure water that’s a constant 55 degrees at that depth,” said Ben. “It’s pumped up via pipes by electricity that the solar panels provide.”
They used trades from local areas. “We used James Bouler architect, a customer who lived in Sayville and is now in Bay Shore, and our uncle, Val Brinkmann of Brinkmann Electric, who lives in West Sayville,” said Hank.
“Kalogeras, who refers to himself as ‘The Greek,’ he’s a mason we met at the American Legion,” added Ben. “Our roofer was Jeff Larsen who lives in Sayville, Alan Gross Plumbing in Sayville, Therm-A-Trol Inc. in Blue Point and Keith Bjertnes, of KRB Landscape & Design in Bayport were all used.” There were a slew of others including Main Street Carpet.
The siblings also started Brinkmann Construction. “We could not have done it without Tim Morris, who managed the project,” said Ben. “He brought the experience and know-how and worked with us six days a week, 12 hours a day for the last year. Any future facilities of ours will be done by us.”
Commercial construction manager Tim Morris from Bayport began working with the Brinkmanns during the Miller Place project, helping them on a part-time basis, then stepped in as full-time construction manager when the Sayville building began rolling. “I managed the day-to-day contractors on-site and the different materials they wanted to use,” Morris said. “They all had a lot of input with the finishes, the light fixtures, the geothermal systems. They have 123 kilowatts from the solar panels and because of that and because the building is super-insulated with the energy-efficient light fixtures, they are able to provide the electricity on-site. They are not burning fossil fuels for heating and cooling. It’s clean, it’s green, it’s efficient.”
Twenty-five staffers, all from the previous Sayville stores, plus several more hired, are on board, said Ben.
Every customer who walks in is greeted with a ‘Hello, can I help you? Can’t find it? Follow me.’ Sometimes a humorous aside is thrown in with advice on which product is best. But the exchanges are always good-natured.
“Dude, I don’t know,” isn’t even a faint thought bubble.
Sayville customer John Lund began using the hardware store when it first opened.
“I went in there for hardware supplies for this house and my beach house on Davis Park,” he recalled. “His staff doesn’t turn over that much. In Blue Point, you’ll see the same people and it’s similar in Sayville. They’re just good people and probably one of the best things now is that if they are out of an item, they can look up their inventory so you can go to another Brinkmann location if you really need it.”
Some longtime staffers go back at least 20 years. They include Sayville High School students who worked there through several semesters, then college, and even in one case, law school like Assemb. Andrew Garbarino (R, C, I- Bayport).
The attorney for the new building was Garbarino. “We paid for his law degree,” joked Ben.
Garbarino began working for the Brinkmanns during his junior year at Sayville High School. “I had no clue about hardware when I first started,” he recalled. “I cleaned bathrooms, swept the floors.” Garbarino wound up running the Blue Point Brinkmann’s on the weekends and the Sayville store on holidays during law school.
“It’s funny, working for them was probably one of the reasons I was elected,” he added. People would say, ‘I know you,’ when he was out campaigning door-to-door. “And it was from Brinkmann’s,” he said.
Garbarino steered the building’s plans through Islip Town. The Brinkmanns requested two entrances so that traffic would flow, he said; the town initially wanted one. “The average customer they have is in and out,” he said. “You’re cutting keys and carrying fertilizer out, and the prime time for the painters is early morning. There used to be three houses there, two were boarded up, so it’s nice to see this building at Sayville’s entrance.”
There are five Brinkmann stores; Sayville, Blue Point, Miller Place, Jamesport and Holbrook. Jamesport is the next one targeted for solar and geothermal when it moves down the road. “We bought a parcel in Mattituck, big enough to house both hardware and paint,” said Hank.
Refreshingly, none of the siblings refer to titles. “We’re all owners,” said Neimeth. “Mom comes in every day and helps with the bookkeeping. I do most of the office details, payroll, accounting. Ben and Hank look at new locations and check on the operation of the stores.” They all started helping out at the family business early. Mary ran the register at age 12 and wrote invoices. Ben and Hank started by pushing brooms and cleaning the bathrooms.
“Mom and dad started from scratch and got the ball rolling,” added Neimeth, admiringly.
Any family squabbles resulting in a whizzing Fritzsche’s bun?
“I don’t think that’s ever happening,” she commented.