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A woman leaves retirement to volunteer at a local produce shop

ST. PETE BEACH — With a growing trend to support community and small businesses, there are a select few who've come out of retirement to volunteer at a small business.

"When I get excited, I can't hold myself back," says Andrea Cummins, a retiree who lives in St. Pete Beach. "I'm just happy that they're willing to provide a service that I find valuable."

After 13 years of retirement, Cummins now volunteers 12 to 14 hours per week at a small business just two blocks from her home.

"Of course nonprofits need volunteers, but so do small-business owners," she says. Cummins, 60, remembers how challenging and tiring it can be to run a business. She once owned Pasadena Wellness Center and Florida Massage Center.

She learned about St. Pete Beach Produce at 69th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard in March 2009. After walking in the store, she said she was so impressed with the quality of the produce that she introduced herself to the owner, Odise "Odi" Armata.

"It's like your old traditional-style market," said Cummins. "The prices for everything are very reasonable, especially considering Odi's commitment to quality."

She noticed Armata's store flier and asked if he had done any advertising. Upon learning that Armata was relying on walk-in traffic, she suggested other options and offered to help with marketing ideas.

Armata says he's fortunate to have someone take such an interest in his business. They both agree that it has been mutually beneficial. "I'm amazed with her energy and she's always happy," he said.

"It's not work to me, it's fun. What Odi does is work," she says.

Armata works seven days a week, often 16-hour days starting with a 4 a.m. trip to the market for fresh produce. When he went away for two weeks to visit his family in Greece, it took six people to take Armata's place to keep the shop open.

With Cummins' help, Armata has expanded his inventory to include Boar's Head meats and cheeses, and he stocks two coolers of ready-to-eat items. He has also added a deli where he prepares fresh sandwiches, salads and party platters for takeout.

Cummins said she always had top-notch instructors and volunteers in her business, and all she asked of them was to take the commitment seriously and to be there when they said they would. "That's the kind of commitment I give to Odi. I'm there when he needs me."

Cummins is so passionate about it that she treats the business as her own in many ways. With her persistence, she managed to get the store into the Corey Sunday Morning Market. "People call me his cheerleader."

She admits though, that "if it wasn't for him, being who he is, I'd shop there, but I would never have offered to help him. What really got to me is his extreme honesty, work ethic and his sincerity about everything."

Armata has taught her about running the register, pricing products and store set-up, and he also helps her practice her Greek.

"I love working here. It's an education for me," Cummins said.

She never expected at this time in her life that she'd get an education in produce, but she admits she has learned a lot. The business has grown thanks to her help, and Armata is able to get a break once in a while.

She's teaching Armata to work smarter, not harder. She has taught him a lot about the importance of marketing, advertising and excellent customer service. "I pamper the customers like they're in a spa instead of a produce store." She even gets customers to volunteer to pass out fliers and to-go menus.

Cummins is a natural at networking. She persuaded Armata to join the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. She attends a lot of the mixers herself and often brings new people along.

Cummins had no plans to come out of retirement; she just found something and someone she connected with. She said she understands the hard work, long hours and commitment Armata puts in.

"All the best things in my life were happy accidents, including meeting my sweet, wonderful husband, Bryan," she says.

A woman leaves retirement to volunteer at a local produce shop 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 6:15pm]
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