There are several clues that the store inside the old brick building that sits off North Davidson Street is not your usual fresh market.
NoDa Produce Market has a pick-and-pay garden outside, with tomatoes, peppers and other good eats ready for harvest.
A few café tables are lined up in front of the entrance. You can sit down and watch the cars moving through the arts district seven days a week.
But there’s no café near those tables where you could buy coffee or a snack. On the other hand, you could cut open a melon or tomato or have a banana while you tap into the free Wi-Fi.
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If it all seems a little unusual, that’s because the former Park Road farm stand operators who opened the business here in June are trying to rewrite some of the rules that many of their competitors swear by.
The cardinal rule for Robert Mussen and Chuck McIntosh is to keep only fully ripened fruits and vegetables on the shelves in the open-air market, which is more than 5,000 square feet.
They also want to stock produce grown in the Carolinas as much as possible. That is already proving to be a difficult standard to meet for many local-food advocates.
“We try to keep things as local as possible and as fresh as possible,” co-owner McIntosh said. Sometimes the two don’t coincide.”
The idea for a produce market started with a Park Road produce stand that Mussen started in 2009. He was able to stay open only seasonally because of local zoning rules.
The farm stand inspired Mussen to have an indoor produce market where people could shop seven days a week.
Ultimately they’d like to see the business grow to resemble, in some ways, the Dekalb Farmers Market near Atlanta, which has expanded well beyond produce.
One similarity is that both markets specialize in selling produce that comes directly from producers. That boosts chances that it will be at its peak and more economical.
Unlike the 35-year-old Dekalb Market, the NoDa store still has empty spaces to fill, including some on its shelves.
Focusing on local foods means eating what’s in the fields at the moment. Apples and zucchini won’t be available all the time. When they are available, the prices can fluctuate.
On a recent visit, North Carolina tomatoes were selling for $1.88 a pound. A pound of yellow onions was 74 cents, and red ones were $1.65 a pound.
One other pitfall for a ripe-produce seller is that food sold at its peak doesn’t last long on a shelf.
McIntosh said he makes regular food donations to neighboring McCreesh Place, which provides housing for men who have been homeless. That cuts down on waste.
Customers who visited the market last week said they appreciate the effort to bring food into the neighborhood within a day of harvest.
“We’re so excited to have a fresh market here,” said Ann Welchans, who owns Progressive Urban Real Estate in NoDa. “You can get what’s fresh, and it’s local, and we’re eating seasonally.”
Plaza Midwood musician Nita Belk bought mesclun lettuce mix and tomatoes on her first visit, but she didn’t find any banana peppers.
McIntosh said that’s the nature of things at a fresh market.
“We’re not trying to replace the grocery store,” he said. “We’re just trying to provide fresh fruits and vegetables.”