Market embraces history, looks forward

Cameron Richard, from left, Debbie Fauble, Mary Richard, Kayla Lawrence and Eddie Richard stand behind a bin of Ida red apples at Richard's Fruit Market in Middletown. The business is celebrating 61 years of operation. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Richard’s Fruit Market Stephens City has been a valley mainstay for 61 years in-part, as owner/operator Eddie Richard explained, “By being dependent on what Mother Nature gives you.”

Richard’s parents, Jim and Mary Richard, opened the market on farmland that was established in the late 1800s to sell freshly picked apples from their acres and acres of orchards.

Eddie Richard, 55, said that the trend for families with generational farms has shifted over the years to selling their own products on-site in a diverse pick-your-own style.

“That’s the trend that my dad figured out 61 years ago,” he said.

Since the market’s inception, Eddie Richard said he has worked to expand its product line to include beef, ice cream, local wines and pick-your-own flowers and vegetables.

Kayla Lawrence picks up mums outside Richard's Fruit Market in Middletown. Rich Cooley/Daily

“My marketing concept started out as, ‘I wanna grow your complete meal off of our own farm,” he said. “I accomplished that a long time ago when we brought in our own beef.”

Even with the expansions and diversification, Eddie Richard has been adamantly against the notion of expanding with additional locations or rebranding the store’s name to incorporate its vast array of products.

“I want to be known as a fruit market,” he said, adding that this “fruit-first” approach is another one of the major reasons that the market has survived and thrived for 61 years.

Over the years, Eddie Richard said they have served customers from up and down the valley, across the state and generations of families that continue to shop at the market.

“It makes me proud that the family traditions continue on,” he said. “Whether these people are just a yearly customer, or if they are regulars … they enjoy coming and visiting with us.”

In particular, Eddie Richard said that the customers especially enjoy visiting the market for his mother, Mary Richard, who continues to work at the store seven days a week from open to close.

Mary Richard, who is 81, said, “We love it. They come in the door, hollering for me … it makes me feel good that they remember me.”

She added, “I would say that we’re doing something right. We try to treat people like we want to be treated ourselves.”

Eddie Richard indicated that he is excited about the future of the market since his daughter Kayla Lawrence moved back to the farm this year with her husband in order to work in the business.

For the past eight years, Lawrence said that she worked largely administrative positions and retail jobs in Colorado and North Dakota – before realizing that those fields were not for her.

“I always knew I wanted to end up farming – it just took me a few years to realize it,” Lawrence said. “I missed being outdoors and just being involved with people and the community.”

Lawrence started working at the market again in August, and has been shadowing her father to learn the tricks of the market trade.

“There’s so much out there to know. I mean, from the orchards to the fruit market, what customers like what,” Lawrence said.

Before Lawrence’s return, Eddie Richard said he had been “paring down to prepare for my future, whatever it would be, when I’m ready to be done. But I’m not going to be done now, and I’m happy about that.”

Both Lawrence and her father said they are starting to formulate plans to diversify the market’s brand and products even more in the future.

Lawrence mentioned one idea of providing the market’s pick-your-own flowers for weddings. She also said she has begun using social media like Instagram to promote the market.

“I want to keep the old and the new together, but keep it in the same old style,” Lawrence said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com