MARYSVILLE — Joe Freed knows a bit about every product and most every customer at the Produce Place.
The salted vodka rib glaze is best brushed onto meat, and don’t be afraid of the spice in the jalapeno barbecue sauce, he suggested to one couple. He’s toured the Ohio operation that makes the specialty pickles he sells. He knows the creators of the Washington salsas that fill part of the refrigerated section.
One of his customers drives a bus in Everett. Another is the mother of two sisters who both have worked at the shop. A man who collects hot rods brings car magazines for Freed’s teenage son. Years ago, a woman went into labor while shopping. She came back to introduce the baby and weighed the infant on one of Freed’s produce scales.
The hardest part of closing is telling customers who have become friends.
The Produce Place will close in January, likely around the second week of the new year, Freed said. He plans to announce a firm date soon.
The goal is to reopen in another location, but he’s not sure where or when.
“This could be the last time we move, so to do it right is key,” he said.
The Produce Place has been at 12319 State Ave. in Marysville for more than eight years. Before that, it was in a tent near Safeway in Smokey Point.
The decision to move was a tough one, but Freed stresses that he was not forced out and he’s leaving on friendly terms. The property owner is building a two-story addition onto the Produce Place. The bottom floor is for a seafood grill and market, according to city permit documents. The property owner has been good to him over the years, but with the new eatery, Freed decided that parking would be too tight.
“Too many businesses come to a place like this and say, ‘We’ll tough it out.’ But then they start losing customers and then they don’t have enough money to move and they go under,” he said. “Doing it like this, there’s lots of options.”
Freed, 51, was born in Everett and lives in Snohomish. He worked in grocery stores for years, but got fed up with corporate requirements that limited his ability to display and recommend what he felt were the best products. Now, he works directly with farmers and producers. If he can’t personally recommend something, he won’t sell it, he said. He stocks his shop not only with fresh produce, but with treats such as candied jalapenos, flavored popcorn and locally made jams.
He’s hired a number of teens for their first jobs. He takes pride in customer service and getting to know shoppers, employees, fellow business owners and the people who make his goods. He believes that business is about relationships and that a smile goes a long way.
Word of mouth is the most powerful advertising tool Freed has used. He doesn’t have a website, but there’s a Facebook page where he plans to keep people up to date as he searches for a new spot: facebook.com/produceplaceinc.
For those not on Facebook, he’s compiling a list of names and phone numbers so he can tell them when he has a location. He also still has the “Coming Soon” banners from when he first opened, so he’ll put those to good use, he said.
Harleen and George Hieber live north of Produce Place. It’s on Harleen’s way home from work at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. They were dismayed to hear about the closure.
“You can just move into our front yard,” Harleen Hieber offered.
They like the local goods, specialty items and reasonable prices, they said. George Hieber is an Army veteran and gets 10 percent off. As long as someone can show something that convinces Freed they are active or former military, he’ll give them a discount. He’s had soldiers come in uniform and veterans unfold their discharge papers on the counter.
He’s from a patriotic family, and married his wife on the Fourth of July. Regulars have been known to slip him money to pay for a uniformed soldier’s purchase. Those are some of the moments that make him love his job, he said. On Veterans Day, he doubles the military discount.
“Well, you’d better be open by Veterans Day,” Harleen Hieber said. “We’re coming back.”
Freed smiled and wished them a happy new year.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.