Walk into City Wide Produce and you’ll find, well, fruits and vegetables in boxes and crates on shelves along the walls and on floor display tables. The concrete floor is clean, and bright colorful posters adorn the warehouse’s yellow and white walls.
The store could be anywhere in the Tucson area.
Instead, City Wide is on South Campbell Avenue, near Sunnyside High School, north of Tucson International Airport. It’s a part of town that doesn’t have farmers markets or community gardens and has only a few food stores.
It’s a food desert and Jeff Ingram couldn’t be happier with his store’s location.
“There’s not a whole lot of produce nearby,” said Ingram, City Wide’s general manager since he and his family opened the retail store a year ago next month.
As an emphasis on healthier eating spreads, some parts of Tucson are left out. The few community gardens that operate are closer to the city’s center, and farmers markets are up for several hours a day, a few days a week. While there are a few food stores near City Wide, there aren’t many.
At City Wide there is an array of fresh vegetable and fruits seven days a week. Some of the produce may be a bit misshapen and not look like what is sold in the chain stores, but City Wide sells its produce at less cost.
And for residents in this overwhelmingly blue-collar side of town, good produce at good prices is a good deal.
“It’s really clean and convenient. There’s good variety,” said Eleite Boren, a shopper who lives around the corner.
Audra Christophel said the store is a valuable addition, giving residents more opportunities to eat healthier.
As the community food systems coordinator for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, she said some parts of Tucson are underserved by food store chains because they feel there’s no profit to be made.
To fill the void, the food bank sponsors farmers markets, community gardens and provides food education.
“Through our work there is a lot of demand to learn how to grow and build healthy communities and families,” she said.
Ingram, 29, a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, feels his store is an integral part of giving people more options to eat better.
“We have room to grow,” he said.
Ingram knows produce. He grew up with it.
He was born in Salinas, California, a rich produce producing region. And his father, who grew up in Nogales, Arizona, has worked as a produce broker for years.
Ingram, his parents Bob and Kelly Ingram, and a sister, Kaity Carman (who is a teacher in Utah), moved to Tucson about 18 years ago with the dream of opening a produce retail store. The family even built the 12,000-square-foot facility at 6221 S. Campbell Ave. But the timing was not right.
Fast forward to 2014. The facility’s lease with a drinking water company expired and the family had a decision to make. They went with their long-held wish.
Ingram stocks the store with produce from Yuma (lettuce and melons), California (spinach, celery and strawberries), Washington (apples and potatoes) and Mexico (cucumbers, chiles, squash, carrots, pineapples and avocados). His father drives nearly every day to Rio Rico to pick up vegetables and fruits from the abundant produce importers there.
The produce carried by City Wide is seasonal. Ingram could stock out-of-season items, but the price to customers would be high. And the store does not stock some produce, like mushrooms and bok choy.
But if the demand grows for produce and fruit that City Wide doesn’t sell, Ingram said he’ll find a way to put it on the shelves.
City Wide has been attracting customers through word of mouth and social media. The store’s Facebook page is updated frequently, listing new produce and prices.
Ingram said the store “is trending” with customers as far away as Green Valley and Sahuarita.
Philip Valdez and his mother, Ruth Valdez, didn’t travel as far but read about the store on Facebook. They found the prices worthwhile on their first visit. They said it was better than Walmart.
Ingram said the chain stores are strong competition but he thinks City Wide can compete and beat the big guys.
“We’re going to be who we are,” he said.