On a gray April afternoon three large steel pots sit by the side of the road, steam rising into the air as the smell of boiling peanuts makes its way across the dirt parking lot off busy LaVista Road.
Behind the pots stand David’s Produce & Specialties, a small, modestly painted wooden store filled with produce. An array of different flowers sit on display and ferns hang from the ceiling of the wooden porch, which is covered in hand-painted signs listing various fruits and vegetables. To the left of the building fresh watermelons, some sliced and some whole, are piled high underneath a canopy .
The store looks like what one might expect to find on the side of the road in Dahlonega or Jasper. David’s has been serving costomers for nearly 17 years at its current location.
The business began in 1933 and was started by David Glenn’s grandparents. It was located at a market in the area of what is now City Hall East on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta and only sold produce.
“It was called Robert Donaldson Produce,” Glenn said. “We moved to a market located off Edgewood after that—I kind of grew up working at the Edgewood market.”
When Robert Donaldson Produce moved to its current location in 1995 the name changed to David’s Produce & Specialties, and the business fell into Glenn’s hands. The store then began to sell gourmet and specialty food items. However, he said produce remains the core of the business, especially the fresh tomatoes, or “t’maters” as signs all over the store refer to them.
“It became almost a different business. We sell a lot of specialty products. In fact, there’s one right here that I’m thinking about putting in,” Glenn said as he reached behind the counter and grabbed a mason jar. “This is a customer who has just made an almond butter and he lives right here in Atlanta.”
Glenn said his store competes with large grocery stores such as Kroger and Publix by offering customers things they wouldn’t see every day. Locally made honey and homemade peanut butter are just a couple of the products not available in larger stores—he also visits the state farmers market three times a week and handpicks the veggies that go into the store.
“I open the box of just about every piece of produce I buy and look inside. Larger stores just call up and say, ‘Send me a box,’ but I have to be more careful because I need people coming back,” Glenn said. “It takes a long time to figure out what your location can sell. You could move two miles in either direction and your whole clientele may change.”
At the register, Mary Ellen Sheehan is waiting in line to purchase a jar of honey. It’s the first time she’s been inside David’s Produce & Specialties.
“I’ve driven past here every day for around 12 years but it’s the first time I’ve been in the shop,” Sheehan said. Glenn asked Sheehan why it had taken her so long to stop into the store. She said, “life, raising children.”
“I’m glad I finally came now. I lived in Milwaukee last year and there were a lot of small stores like this, which I loved walking to. We need more of these,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said she is working with Burmese refugees and starting a small farm in Clarkston, and one of the reason she stopped in was to see how the store is run and what it has to offer. Sheehan said she was going to grow organic produce but Glenn said if he sold organic produce it would put him out of business.
“Organic is not really organic anyways, they still use pesticides just different ones, and the price doubles and triples. I couldn’t sell organic here because it’s too expensive—people wouldn’t pay for it,” Glenn said.
Glenn said David’s is gearing up for a busy summer. He walked to the front of the store, then outside, and began scooping peanuts into a plastic bag. He said there aren’t very many places in town that still sell fresh, hot-boiled peanuts.
“People tell us that we have some of the best you can get anywhere,” Glenn said.