Overabundance of firewood could hurt some local businesses

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Jason Hubbard of Aqueboque at his wood stand at the end of Hubbard Trail and Peconic Bay Boulevard with his wife Becky and children Casey, 23 months, Erin, 4, and two-week old Jason.

Last winter, Jason Hubbard’s phone was ringing off the hook.

Incessant snowfall had soaked bundles of firewood, putting some residents on the hunt for more.

“People called and said, ‘We depend on you,’” Mr. Hubbard said. “I told them, ‘I’m only one guy!’”

Mr. Hubbard is one of many on the North Fork who sell firewood to those looking to save a buck by cutting back on oil.

He began his side business in 2008 when oil prices were increasing at alarming rates.

“We decided to throw a few piles out there to compensate for the price of gas,” he explained. “From there, it took off.”

He keeps piles of firewood in a wooden shack at the end of his driveway in  Aquebogue with a sign listing prices: $240 for a full cord, $125 for a half-cord and $5 per pile. There are about 500 pieces of wood in one cord and about 10 pieces in a pile.

He said his business is based on the honor system; customers are supposed to drive up to his unmanned stand, take firewood and leave the appropriate amount of cash in a little box.

“Some people aren’t honest,” Mr. Hubbard said. “About 10 percent doesn’t get paid for.”

Most of the wood is from oak trees, which have hard wood that burns well and emits a strong heat, Mr. Hubbard said. Oak wood is conducive to the needs of his customers, who use it for their fireplaces, wood stoves and outdoor chimneys. He has some regulars who “pick up a bottle of wine, swing by for firewood and have a fire at home.”

When Tropical Storm Irene swept through North Fork, she took many trees down. The excess of free firewood laying on front lawns does not make for a happy firewood salesman.

“It’s not going to be good for business,” said Joshua Carrick, general manager of Carrick’s Service Corp in Aquebogue.

“If you can save [money] by finding your own wood and splitting it with an axe, a lot of people will do that,” he said.

The overabundance of wood won’t affect this year’s sales, he said, as wood takes 6 months to a year to dry out and be ready for burning.

But 2012 sales will suffer because of the surplus wood, and Mr. Carrick’s business is no exception.

“Our prices are going to have to get lowered and we’ll see what we can sell,” he said.

Under normal conditions, the firewood business can be a lucrative one. Mr. Carrick guesses one could pull in $100,000 a year in gross sales.

Manuel Kanel, owner of Long Island Firewood, which operates out of Colorful Gardens in Jamesport, wasted no time gathering inventory for his business.

“We started collecting immediately after the hurricane,” he said.

He said customers continue to purchase his firewood because of the savings they reap in not having to use oil. He would guess a family can save about $5,000 by using firewood to heat their homes instead of oil.

And people will likely be flocking to firewood stands more rapidly, as September marks the beginning of the season.

So until fallen branches from the storm dry out, business owners expect a healthy winter season.

“Everybody looks for wood,” Mr. Hubbard said. “Everybody thinks it’s golden.”

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