“Ann Arbor eats corn and tomatoes,” says Hollis Smith, an amused smile playing on his face. “Greens don’t sell too much over here. They sell in Ypsi.” Was that a wink? Is Smith perhaps suggesting that Ann Arbor’s vaunted appetite for diversity doesn’t extend to summer vegetables?
The Pinckney woman surveying Smith’s produce stand on the corner of Packard and Stadium just asked if he had any greens. They trade a few happy memories of the collard greens, crowder peas, and okra that Ann Arborites won’t eat.
Smith’s sign at the Circle K gas station is hard to miss. Readable from all five lanes of Stadium, it always lists just three items in big block letters: SWEET CORN, HONEY ROCKS, TOMATOES. In early August, though, his wheeled cart also carried cukes, eggplant, zucchini, green tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and new potatoes. A few days later, as if spurred to take on a challenge, he was selling fresh crowder peas and okra, too.
Smith, a retired Ann Arbor firefighter (1973–1998), started selling produce as a sideline years ago with fellow firefighter Paul Barnes, who had a farm near Saline. They sold Barnes’ produce together in front of the former Food and Drug Mart across the street, until Barnes died three years ago. One night around that time, Smith had just sold “Pete”—then manager of Circle K—some corn and mentioned that he was having trouble with the traffic congestion since the market had been turned into a tiny mall anchored by Stadium Market and Caribou Coffee. “That night, Pete and I dragged the cart across the street. It’s been there ever since.” The current Circle K manager, Stephanie Suchala, loves having it there. “He’s a joy to have. We let him come as early as he wants and leave as late as he wants.” And she lets him park the cart behind the store all winter.
Except for Saturdays, when he’s closed, Smith’s days begin at 6 a.m. when he drives down to his corn supplier, farmer Richard Beland in Dundee. He makes other stops and has his stand open by 10 a.m.