A throwback market for modern times
A shopper reaches for an apple while shopping at the Triangle Market in Everett on Saturday, July 7.
EVERETT — The blonde wood phone booth in the long red barn comes with a sign for young adults who might not recognize it: “Your daddy’s iPhone.”
It’s just one of many signs of the times, old and new, at the Triangle Fruit Market owned by Larry Kelso.
What started as a tent that Kelso pitched on the site in 1997, and turned into an open air red barn 15 years ago, has transformed again.
The market is in Everett’s Delta Neighborhood, a working-class, family-filled area of northeast Everett, but it might feel just as at home among the antique shops of Snohomish or as an outpost of times past along Route 66.
Mounds of glossy Roma tomatoes and piles of hot peppers hold their ground, but the row of vintage toy tractors and the numerous neon signs are the big attention getters.
They point shoppers to the
produce stand’s feature attraction: an ice cream counter with classic and quirky choices.
There is black licorice, a special order from Tillamook that a customer requested, plus spumoni full of candied cherries, and cookie dough that’s maybe more dough than cream. Fruit lovers can partake in wild blackberry or strawberry sccops from a Mount Vernon dairy.
Kelso’s employees hand make each waffle cone and don’t stop scooping until it threatens to topple.
“People are funny how they spend money,” Kelso said.
“Somebody will say ‘Wow, tomatoes are $1.50 a pound,’ but pay $6 for a milkshake, $4.50 for ice cream cones … you either adapt or go out of businesses.”
With fresh produce piled high, shoppers browse the aisles at the Triangle Market on Saturday, July 7 among the many vintage gas pumps and bright neon signs.
He’s learned from experience about satisfying customers. He began growing his knowledge more than five decades ago with a grocery store job at age 15.
The new look and ice cream counter were high impact but easy changes for Kelso, who designed the red barn himself on a napkin.
It started with a great year, followed by some tough ones. Kelso saw record profits in 2010, but business has dropped 25 percent since.
The causes were threefold according to Kelso.
Competition from big box stores including Costco has been intense since the national retailer began accepting food stamps nearly a decade ago.
The list of suppliers has dwindled; gone are the days Kelso could drive from vendor to vendor and hand pick his purchases.
Kelso, now past retirement age himself, has seen his customers age out, too.
“I’ve been there so long a lot of my customers have moved out. After 20 years their kids are big, it’s a different demographic now.”
So he went back to the past to secure the fruit market’s future.
The entrepreneur, who also owns an Arlington restaurant run by his two sons and Marysville coffee stand run by his wife, based the market’s décor on what he liked himself.
“I want (customers) to feel like hey, this place is different, I’m trying to make my mark, be one of a kind. Those things are expensive but you can have the money sitting in that or in the bank, you can enjoy it,” Kelso said.
The customers do enjoy it but they also have a soft spot for the staff, some who have worked at Triangle as long as 20 years.
We always stop here on the way home,” said Mandy Morrison. “We love the prices, the people, and the smell of the ice cream.”
Trista and son Ethan Taylor stopped to shop for jalapeños to make their own poppers. “It’s cheap, and fresh and they have ice cream, why wouldn’t you” stop here, she said.
Kelso’s advice for customers right now is to try the cherries, as these will only be around a week or two more, and if they’re craving ice cream, well, “I always go for pralines and cream.”
If you want to go
The Triangle Fruit Market is located at 1420 West Marine View Drive, at the corner of 14th Street and East Marine View Drive, in Everett. It is approximately half a mile south from the Marine View Drive exit on I-5. By bus: The 29 North Everett Transit bus has a stop less than a block away from the market.
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