Produce stand opens in downtown storefront

Published 10:02 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A woman walking on West Washington Street on Tuesday glanced into a building, waved to a shop owner and kept walking. But then she doubled back, walked in and asked an incredulous question: “Are you a fruit shop?”

Howard Piland shows off his new downtown location of B & H Produce on West Washington Street. He plans to carry everything from fresh produce to healthy snacks in the store.

Indeed, B & H Produce had several varieties of apples prominently displayed near the front door of 251 W. Washington St. But the store carries much more than fruit.

Other produce on display included onions, asparagus, squash, spring onions, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, raw greens, several varieties of potatoes and trays of flowering plants.

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The store also carries jarred products like pickles, beets, pasta sauce, jellies and salad dressing. Other products like chips, peanuts, pistachios and individual pieces of candy are great for those looking for a snack.

On the other end of the spectrum, the store offers gluten-free cake mixes, Mrs. Miller’s veggie noodles and Oberweis milk and soon will carry beef and pork that will be free of genetically modified organisms, said owner Howard Piland.

“We’re trying to bring stuff that’s hard to find,” he said.

He has run a stand in Driver for about a year and a half, Piland said. But he wanted to branch out and do something year-round.

He decided to come downtown to draw a new clientele, he said.

“I’m drawing from all directions,” he said.

It’s been slow going at first. The shop he’s in has been mostly vacant for a while, and the entrance is set back a little from surrounding buildings.

“I guess the biggest thing is just getting the word out,” Piland said. “The first couple weeks, I just sat here and looked at the door. I think it’s going to take off. It’s just slow at first.”

Piland said everything in the shop comes from local farms — some in Suffolk, Southampton County and Edenton, N.C.

His venture into accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — commonly known as EBT or food stamps — has been more successful downtown than in the Driver location, he added.

“I think we had two people up there use it, but since I’ve been here, I’ve had several,” he said.

Piland said the produce selection will change as different items come into season. He aims to keep the shop open all year long.

“That’s the reason I decided to do the meats and the milk,” he said. He also has other plans for the future but didn’t offer any details.

The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. It is closed Wednesday and Sunday, but Piland said it might open on Wednesdays as the growing season gets into full gear.