You may have heard this about small towns.

To get this right, you have to begin by picturing just about any small town in America: a single main street, two or less of everything — like two churches, a couple of gas stations. A medium-sized grocer on one end of town and another, usually smaller, independent on the other. Each has a small produce department to match the size of their operations.

Store size doesn’t change the basic requirements
Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

The small produce department is probably the most difficult to manage. That’s probably because the produce clerk is used to hopping over at a moment’s notice to stock groceries, cut meat, crush boxes, help unload trucks and taking the deposit to the bank at the end of the day.

Managing produce is but part of their many duties, and if the store has a short wet rack and a few tables, they have more than enough work to do, even if sales are slow.

God bless these guys, they get it done.

Next time you travel cross-country or look at a map, you’ll see the thousands of these smaller towns that can usually be identified when the edge of town is something like “20th Street,” or when the grain elevators are the tallest landmarks around.

The produce manager handles his operation much differently than his high-volume counterparts, but most principles remain the same.

He keeps selection so tight that many times the entire inventory is what is seen on the shelf. As days progress, items get trimmed down smaller, and it’s not uncommon to see a couple heads of leaf lettuce tied together and sold as one.

You know you’re in a small town when a sign says “Becky’s Peaches” — and everyone knows who Becky is.

The signs are fluorescent orange and hand-written. There’s a good chance that old label guns are still used to price packaged items, produce and otherwise. Stock levels may be lower compared to their big-city counterparts. But principles of good rotation, sanitation and shrink control still apply in a small operation if the store is to stay in business and make a profit.

No doubt about it, small-town operations do more than their fair share of business, especially when everything is added up, besides the fact that operators have to wear many hats.

This reminds me of this old yarn about one small town. Like so many, area residents have to work more than one job to make ends meet.

The story focuses on the veterinarian on the edge of town, who also posts a “Taxidermy Done Here” sign. In the dimly lit marquee on the shoulder of the road is the message: “Veterinarian/Taxidermist — Either way you get your dog back!”

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail

Do you have stories about a small-town grocery store or a small produce department? Leave a comment with your experiences.