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Thefts piling up at 9-year-old’s roadside firewood stand in Cutchogue

10/27/2015 12:00 PM |

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Hard work comes naturally to 9-year-old Phoenix Samolewski. His grandfather, Bob, owned Greenland Family Farms in Cutchogue and his father, Robert, operates the nursery today, which is located within walking distance of their Alvahs Lane home.

Last year, Phoenix was eager to help out at the farm, possibly by weeding. But his parents figured that might be too much for the youngster, so his grandfather came up with another idea.

Phoenix could start a roadside stand to sell firewood, a familiar site on the North Fork’s rural roads that uses an honor system for people to pay for what they take. His grandfather would dump the wood in the driveway and it would be up to Phoenix to load the pieces into a small wagon, drag them to the stand along Route 48 and carefully place them into piles for sale. A sign hanging at the stand lists a price of $5 per bundle.

It takes about an hour, Phoenix said, to finish the job. A notebook is used as a ledger to track all the sales.

The business started off well, but has hit a road bump of late.

“Some people have not been paying,” Phoenix said.

His mother, Gabriela, said Phoenix checks the cash box that buyers insert their money into every time he notices a pile has been taken. Since September, at least seven people have already skipped the payment. Someone even went as far as to rip out the box bolted to the stand. A newer, more secure metal box was put in its place this past week.

“Still, they tried to tamper with it,” Ms. Samolewski said.

The first box’s thief didn’t make out with much: It contained, at most, about $10. Still, the recent thefts have left Phoenix and his family frustrated and wondering if the business is even worth the effort.

“You feel like, how desperate does a person have to be to try to do that?” Ms. Samolewski said.

She hopes her son learns that hard work is appreciated, she said.

“We try to raise a responsible, respectful young man here,” she said. “It’s discouraging. He needs to learn that it’s not always rainbows and you have to take the good and the bad. Last year it was a couple times that they didn’t pay. Maybe the person was really in a pickle and needed wood right away. It just seems like, why did it increase all of a sudden?”

Ms. Samolewski said they haven’t filed any official police reports.

“I really think the police have better stuff to do than keep track of our wood stack,” she said.

Phoenix, a fourth-grader at Cutchogue East Elementary School, doesn’t plan on making any lavish purchases with his earnings just yet.

When asked what he wants to do with the money, he said, “Put it in my bank account.”

And then, eventually, buy a car. He’s not sure what kind yet, but he’ll have at least six more years of selling wood before that time comes.

Photo Caption: Phoenix Samolewski started his firewood stand last year, but has found more and more people are taking the wood without paying. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

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