Dear PoPville – Why Don’t We See More Fruit Stands around Town?


“Dear PoPville,

My roommates and I were discussing the fact that DC is lacking in places to buy fresh produce. Is there some regulation against having fruit stands? Or, has no one thought to get those going here?”

I know there are a few in Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant. Anyone know why we don’t see more of them?

29 Comment

  • If there was a legitimate demand for fresh fruit there would be more fruit stands. The answer to the question is common sense: no one cares about fresh fruit.

    • I eat fresh fruit a couple times a day but I don’t have such a desperate need for it that I would buy it on the street. I agree that there doesn’t seem to be a need for fruit vendors, at least in the nicer parts of DC that have grocery stores and farmer’s markets (however, it might be beneficial in the “food deserts”).

    • Unfortunately, it’s that kind of circular reasoning that contributes to the problem of food deserts. (But to be clear, I’m not trying to oversimplify; there are a number of issues that contribute to food deserts.) In areas where fresh fruit isn’t easily accessible, people assume there’s no “demand”–but is that because there’s really no interest, or because it simply isn’t readily available and residents aren’t used to having it available? Then, the conventional wisdom becomes that there’s “no demand” and therefore no one attempts to offer the product because the don’t think it will be profitable to do so, thus perpetuating the dearth of fresh produce.

  • I know the ones in NYC are subsidized and I don’t know of a parallel effort down here. Interesting Kickstarter idea though — I’d chip in.

  • We have one million farmer’s markets.

    • Yeah, I’d like to be helpful, but I’m very confused by this question. If you want fresh produce, there are so, so many farmer’s markets in DC. Also, your average whole foods tends to have plenty of decent produce. Is it the particular lack of a fruit stand that’s the issue? Like, the OP isn’t looking for a whole market, but rather just an individual stand?

      • But each farmers market is available only one day a week (usually), and often only a limited time window. I think the OP is thinking about a place like NYC or some places in the tropics where they’re on almost every corner.
        My hunch is that it’s economics 101, and that there aren’t very many places where it would be profitable, either because of foot traffic density and/or demand. Most of the comments suggest people wouldn’t be interested.

        • I’m guessing–and this is total unscientific speculation on my part–that the reason you *do* see fruit carts in areas like Columbia Heights/Mt. P (or at least, I do, compared to other neigborhoods) is that these neighborhoods have a higher proportion of: a) immigrant residents to staff the fruit stands; and b) immigrant residents for whom these types of street stands are a familiar part of the culture from their home country (or other big city where they lived prior to coming to DC). The stands I see tend to be staffed by older Latina ladies and feature tropical produce like mangos; again, pure speculation, but I am guessing that it’s very difficult to make much of a profit, and the women running these stands are doing so in order to make a little extra income for the household vs. as a family-supporting business.

          • Agreed. Spot on.

            The best part about living in an immigrant neighborhood is the cheap food. I loved living near Chinatown in NYC – ain’t no Chinese ladies paying $8 for heirloom tomatoes and organic mangoes!

          • Columbia Heights is also one of the densest parts of the city with lots of residential foot traffic. Don’t think it would work in low foot areas (which is the vast majority of the city by land area).

  • I usually find fresh fruits and vegetables in one of several area grocery stores. Am I doing it wrong? (I do a CSA too.)

  • i’d love to see some fresh fruit stands downtown and around the Mall, where you could grab a nectarine or some sliced pineapple. Don’t always want hot dogs and chips, or a tasteless overpiced fruit cup from Au Bon Pain.

    • Agreed, and I actually didn’t find this question strange because fruit carts (along with other types of on-street/pre- food truck vendors) are quite common in New York. Yes, I know that in a number of neighborhoods, we can buy fresh fruit during our trips to the grocery store or farmers market. But like Anon 3:55 said, there are plenty of times when it would be nice to grab a snack on the fly, or during work. I usually bring my lunch and that’s usually enough food for me, but there have definitely been days when I got hit with an unexpected mid-afternoon hunger pang, and I miss being able to dash out to the corner to grab a banana or some grapes or nectarines or whatnot. (If you think about some of the office blocks around K Street, there are plenty of places to grab a soup, salad, or wrap; but far fewer places to grab a $1-ish piece of fruit. Starbucks, Corner Bakery and the like will occasionally have some fruit on display, but good luck finding much of a selection beyond a few underripe bananas, mealy apples, or dried-out oranges with rinds as hard as cement.) I think the OP may have been referring to food deserts but still, carts can be useful in lots of different areas.

      • I don’t work downtown and would be happy if there was a place nearby where I could grab a soup, salad, or wrap, let alone fruit!

  • There are quite a few fruit stands around Philly. I really like it–they’re basically food trucks that sell little boxes of fruit salad for a couple dollars. It’s a good, healthy snack–a nice alternative to the ice cream and baked goods I always seem to end up buying here.

  • In Philadelphia, where there’s nothing new or trendy about food trucks, one of my favorites was the fruit salad truck near my office at the Wharton School. Bins of pre-sliced fruit, various sizes and combinations ready to go, or, you could tell the lady “lotsa strawberries, a few pieces of pineapple, and fill ‘er up with mango.” For some reason, her fruit was always tastier than what I bought at the supermarket, and she never charged extra if you skipped the cheap melon and apples…
    Simple and perfect. I bought an average of three $5 containers of fruit from her each week.

  • Baltimore still has the fruit vendor with horse & cart that travels through the neighborhoods once or twice a week. It’s such a throwback to how my great grandpa first made a living in the new world. Also, helps in the food desert areas where there are many people who are unable to travel to a clean, safe supermarket.

  • I studied the industry a few years ago, and learned that, at least in NY, the higher quality produce goes first to corner fruit stands, and big chain supermarkets get what is leftover. But the foot traffic there means that people can just buy their fresh fruit (and vegetables) daily on the corner, without schlepping to the (overpriced) farmers market.

    • Yet another “invisible” cost of the height limit.

      More height = more density = more foot traffic = more street retail.

      Ok yes, in theory, we could knock down our historic 2-3 story row house neighborhoods and rebuild them with dense Parisian 5-7 story apartment buildings, but obviously we are never going to do it.

  • There use to be a guy who sold fruit on the corner of North Capitol and Riggs I believe? Near Fort Totten metro station. He seemed to have a good clientale base especially in the morning. I am sort of surprised there isn’t a fruit bowl food truck or some sort.

  • It’s not exactly a stand, but there is a place in DC devoted exclusively to selling fruit. A shop called Mexican Fruits on 4th St NE in the Florida Ave market area. I’m obsessed with the place. Crowded with absurdly cheap fruits and vegetables, some stuff sold in bulk, clearly a shopping location of choice for African and Latino/a immigrants in the know. It’s hard to move around in there on Saturday because the aisles are narrow and it’s crowded, but it’s my favorite place in DC.

    While you’re over there you can do a little shopping old-world style by going to all the different stores that feature different stuff. Litteri’s for meats and cheeses, Carribean crescent for halal meat and spices and pastes of various kinds (never, ever buy tahini paste at whole foods again), and some Korean places I haven’t explored yet. Union Market is over there too, but save that for another day with another, different kind of mission.

    • Thanks, I’ll need to check that out! I go to El Grande when I’m out visiting my MIL in the suburbs, but I’m glad to know there’s a local option for cheap produce. I do like Litteri and Carribean Crescent (only place I’ve been able to find rosewater and orange flower water in DC!).

  • My theory. . . too many white people. You only see fruit stands in areas with brown people, or longstanding ethnic neighborhoods where you had people who were the “other” 100 years ago (i.e. Italians).

    Alternate theory. . . DC just can’t have nice things.

  • Yes! I was back there a couple of weeks ago and saw an “Arabber” [that’s the local slang for a horse-drawn fruit cart vendor; not sure the term’s origins] on the streets of Hampden one evening. I was really surprised; I remember seeing them in my childhood, but figured they’d gone the way of other old-school traditions by now.

  • There was fruit cart near the Metro when I lived in Silver Spring. He had a nice selection of good quality options and the prices weren’t too bad. the idea may seem extraneous to those of us with good grocery store options in every neighborhood, but fruit stands could be a great resource for the parts of DC that don’t have that luxury or can’t afford farmers market prices. And agreed that it would be really nice to have a food truck with healthier options like fruit.

Comments are closed.