Since 1962, Larry and Joan Green have gotten up each morning to greet customers — and a few pigeons waiting for something to fall on the ground — at their open air fruit market.
But Fruit-Land Market — which has stood on the corner of East Speedway and North Sixth Avenue for 55 years, stocked with fresh citrus, cherry cider, Spanish peanuts and cactus jelly — has now been forced to close.
Larry, 86, and Joan, 79, received a letter from Minnesota-based Miller & Holmes, Inc., the owners of the property, last August, saying it “has decided to sell the property” and would like to “take possession by January 1, 2014.” However, the Greens were able to talk the property owners into an extension, which gives them until May 1 to vacate.
The company would not say what it plans to do with the Tucson property, at 1101 N. Sixth Ave.
Larry Green began working at the market for $1 an hour for a previous owner before he took it over in 1962, the same year he married Joan.
Back then, the market had dirt floors and Sixth Avenue was a one-way street.
“There’s a lot more noise with the two-way street,” he said, speaking over the rush of traffic on Speedway.
“It used to be so quiet,” Joan added.
One of the biggest changes the Greens have seen in the fruit business over the years is the cost of fruit.
“Prices have gotten higher,” Joan said. “We used to sell oranges for ten cents a pound in 1962.”
Oranges and grapefruits have been top-sellers at Fruit-Land Market. Every two weeks, Larry would get in his Chevy van pulling a flatbed trailer and make the nearly 200-mile round trip to Queen Creek and Phoenix to load up on fresh, organic oranges, tangerines and grapefruit.
“We’ve been driving our own produce all these years,” Larry said. “I used to get produce in Mesa until they tore down the trees.”
Competing with chain grocery stores hasn’t been easy, Joan said. “But, they can’t compete with our oranges and grapefruits. And we have different things they don’t have, like cactus jelly. That’s how we make our money.”
That, and good old-fashioned customer service.
“We don’t fight people if they got a bad orange,” Joan said. “You gotta build up your customers that way.”
Ric Bieser, a Tucson retiree, was first drawn into Fruit-Land Market about 20 years ago when he saw signs for Michigan apple cider. “I’m from Ohio and I love apple cider,” he said. “Every October, they’d bring Michigan apple cider back. It was great apple cider. Every fall I’d look forward to that.”
After a few years as a customer, Bieser became friends with the Greens. “I’ve been volunteering and helping them out the last few years,” Bieser said. “Especially this year.”
The Greens have lived modestly in a house attached to the market. “We made enough to pay our bills,” Larry said. “We live right here. That made a difference. If we had to pay $1,000 a month rent somewhere else, it wouldn’t have worked.” The couple would not say how much rent they paid to Miller & Holmes, Inc.
Although the Greens hired help once in a while so they could spend birthdays and anniversaries together, most of the time, it was just them, Larry said.
“We’ve hung on, the two of us,” Larry said. “I’m lucky to have Joanie. She’s been able to open the store lately. My legs have given out on me.” Larry walks with a cane, much slower than he once was.
Joan has had her share of problems, as well. She said she’s had both of her hips replaced. “We’re not spring chickens anymore,” Joan said.
The couple concedes that maybe it is time to retire, after all. But that doesn’t make closing shop any easier.
“We’re sad,” Joan said. “After so many years, we’ve met a lot of wonderful people. I don’t know if the owner realizes how attached we are.”
Larry said he will miss the friendly people walking by, saying good morning every day.
The Greens don’t know what’s in store for the corner market after the property owners take possession of it. But Larry thinks it will probably be torn down.
After more than 52 years of stuff is moved into storage, Joan and Larry will head to Detroit to sell the house they used to spend summers in, and return to Tucson to buy a home.
“I will miss their store very much,” Bieser said. “It’s the last open-air fruit stand. It’s sort of an old tradition of Tucson that’s disappearing.”