NEW PORT RICHEY
Rose Mohr never thought of herself as a hippie. In fact, the petite, 61-year-old grandmother of six likes to joke that she's the "squarest person in the world." But her love of healthy eating, reading and handmade local crafts led her to a business that's attracting a cadre of customers with similar interests. In December, Mohr opened Market on Main, in an Old Florida cottage at 6040 Main St. in New Port Richey.
It's painted pale mint green with pumpkin trim and nestles in what was once a beloved gardening shop called the Potting Shed. The neighborhood-friendly fresh produce stand offers a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables as well as Amish-made jams and fruit butters, quilt pillows, gourd birdhouses and quaint garden signs made by local artists. Apples, pears, peppers, apricots, string beans and radishes are mounded in Shaker-style baskets in the living room of the house, which is decorated with bright yellow floral-stenciled walls and an oriental-style rug.
On a large, airy front porch, neighbors and customers swap novels and back issues of Country Living from the free book exchange Mohr dreamed up.
"I love to read, I love books and I thought it would be nice to share," Mohr said. "People who come here to shop bring books and magazines for others to read, too."
Mohr, who owned a commercial sign business for years and labored at a computer for hours at a time, became interested in opening a produce stand after visiting her son and daughter-in-law's produce stand in North Carolina.
It wasn't just the melons and squash that caught her fancy: "I loved the energy of it — walking around and talking to people who were so friendly," she said.
Before opening Market on Main, Mohr ran a similar produce business from a space she rented in another downtown New Port Richey building. After the building was destroyed last year in a fire, she and her staff continued to sell vegetables from the parking lot until she found the current house on Main Street.
The customers followed.
Dorothy Kane, 64, a regular for years, filled up her re-usable green shopping sack with enough produce and fruit to last her a day and a half. A cancer survivor who went to Woodstock as a young woman in 1969, Kane wore a pink T-shirt decorated with a fist making a peace sign.
"What works for me is that it's fresh and hopefully not radiated," explained Kane, a self-described "old hippie" who walks to the stand from her 1940s house in a neighborhood a block and a half away. "This is a great place — it's like a little country market." Kane often sees Mohr, who lives nearby, walking to work, sometimes with her apricot poodle, Ginger.
"Very pet-friendly," Kane added as she browsed through tomatoes in baskets under striped umbrellas outside.
Mohr's stand attracts a variety of people — retirees, professors, neighborhood residents, and even walkers and joggers who make the stand part of their daily routes.
Local restaurants also buy regularly from the shop, Mohr said.
Joe Martinez said that he worked as the "errand guy" for Juan's Black Bean Cafe in downtown New Port Richey. Martinez said he comes to buy produce at least several times a week and "sometimes once a day if I miss something."
On a hot Wednesday morning in June, a steady stream of customers roamed through the fan-cooled house filling baskets with fruit and vegetables.
"We're very fussy — we really try to keep everything fresh and clean," said Mohr, who also sells ice cream, locally roasted coffee beans and fresh grouper.
Mohr, who loves to read and sew in her spare time, jokes that she actually has no free time anymore because her business has been so busy. As a result, she's opening a second business just like it in downtown New Port Richey at Grand Boulevard and State Road 54. She also sells her produce at the downtown farmer's market on weekends.
The new stand, which will open in about a week, is called the Market at Grand and is also in an old house: "I love old houses," Mohr said.
Despite a faltering economy, the business is thriving, in part, Mohr thinks, because she tries to keep prices down.
And, she says, "People need to eat — they can do without a lot of things, but in the end they want to save money and eat good, healthy food."
Employee Lydia James is a testament to the healing power of fresh fruit and vegetables. Since going to work for Mohr 21/2 years ago at her old produce stand, James says she has lost 105 pounds.
"I eat a lot of salads," she says. "And of course I love working here. It's very family-oriented and a wonderful environment to work in."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at email@example.com.