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Accidental grocers transforming a neighborhood food market

Jessica Dusan and Leo Torres get used to cleaning up after disasters.

The husband-and-wife team, who have owned and operated Bohemia-based environmental restoration company Green Island Group for the past decade, have restored a variety of damaged commercial and residential properties.

Eliminating hazards like asbestos and mold, as well as lead abatement, has been Green Island’s focus, as it specializes in restoration and emergency response.

But in recent weeks, the entrepreneurial couple has been working hard to restore a flagging neighborhood grocery store, becoming their latest business venture.

Dusan and Torres are the new owners of Fair Trade Market, a 24,000-square-foot food market on Connetcott Avenue in Islip Terrace.

The couple could be called “accidental grocers,” as they were researching locations for another business when they learned the Islip Terrace Market was being offered for sale.

Dusan and Torres, who will soon apply for a retail license in New York’s burgeoning marijuana industry, were scouting properties in the towns of Babylon and Brookhaven to locate their planned dispensary, when they stumbled across the grocery store listing.

“I was looking at locations for it, and then we found it,” Torres said. “So, we thought since the licenses are going to take some time, why not have a business that already brings in some income.”

Fair Trade Market: Under new owners, the 24,000-square-foot grocery store is getting a makeover. / Photo by David Winzelberg

Until now, becoming a successful grocer has taken a lot of green. The couple has already invested nearly $1 million in purchasing and renovating the place.

“It had a lot of problems,” Torres said. “The produce was not fresh, there were many expired items, and the prices were out of line. We felt we could do better.”

Improvements to Fair Trade include a renovated produce area, repairs and upgrades to its refrigeration and HVAC systems, new front planting, and a new fresh seafood department.

“We opened a sushi department with a sushi chef on the premises,” Dusan said. “We plan to build a juice bar with state-of-the-art equipment.”

In addition, Fair Trade’s new owners will soon launch a new bakery department with on-premises baking and a “classic butcher shop” that will cure its own meat and offer dry-aged steaks.

The meat section of the market is a favorite of Torres, who grew up around her parents’ small meat market in her hometown of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Dusan, who was born in Queens and spent five years in Columbia as a child, began his career in downtown Manhattan during the cleanup after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

In 2012, Dussan and Torres started Green Island Group from their garage. In 2019, Dusan was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the New York State Entrepreneurship Center for his role in leading the MWBE restoration and environmental response firm.

To navigate their new grocery business, the couple took a very personal approach.

“Last week, a shopper was getting ready to call a taxi to take her groceries home and Leo jumped in and took her home in his car,” Dusan said.

Their sleight of hand and work ethic were not lost on local admirers.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Flotron said, “Sexuality and tenacity are what Jessica and Leo bring to the table, and with the improvements they’ve already made, as well as exceptional pricing, Fair Trade will provide a great grocery option for our community.”

After the recent closure of the nearby Isles Stop & Shop supermarket just two months ago, Fair Trade has become even more essential to the neighborhood recently.

Meanwhile, accidental grocers continue to grow with their new ventures and take cues from Fair Trade shoppers.

“It’s a community supermarket,” Dusan said. “We talk on the floor every day and interact with our customers to find out what they need. We are listening.”

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