Fresh Start Market’s curbside service keeps community stocked with fresh local produce

Shawn Singer has always loved local food markets. She visited local produce venues on her days off and on vacations.  

“I organized a farm to table dinner in my community for local farmers and it was a huge success,” she said. “I always said I would love to have a business where I could co-op with farmers.”

She made her wish come true with Fresh Start Market in May 2019. The produce and flower market opened in Summersville where she grew up. The Summersville Area Chamber of Commerce helped stage her grand opening in the parking lot. Gad Dam Brewing, a Summersville business two miles down the road, hosted the event and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture helped her find local vendors.

Just a few months later, the novel coronavirus swept across the country. 

Shawn Singer, Owner of Fresh Start Market

Fresh challenge: Finding local produce to supply customers

News about the pandemic began to circulate through town. Some businesses began to restrict hours or close.

“People were concerned about food shortages. About two or three weeks after we started hearing about the pandemic, my daughter asked if I were to get sick, who would run the store,” said Singer. “I decided to give staying open a shot, to give my customers a safe haven to get their food.”

As an entrepreneur with a business and a family, Singer also needed the market to stay open to pay the bills. The questions were how to do it safely, where to find supplies and would there be enough customers to make staying open practical.

Staying stocked with normal market items was relatively easy. Finding fresh local produce proved more difficult, especially early in the growing season. 

“Big chains seemed to be buying it up in bulk, which really put a strain on certain items,” she said. “I called on all my providers. I did a lot of traveling on weekends and early mornings to make sure I had the items my customers wanted and needed.”

Staying open with curb appeal

Fresh Start Market kept its regular operating hours — 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — and switched to curbside service. She spread the word to her customers through social media and her customers spread the word through the community. 

More customers began cooking at home and shopping weekly for produce. Some asked Singer to take a basket and “just fill it up,” trusting her to select for them from whatever fresh produce was available. Fresh Start Market also donated items and practiced “paying it forward” to people in the community.

“The buzz was great. Customers loved the curbside,” Singer said. “They were able to place their orders by phone or on Facebook, come here and pick up. Or they could pull in and I took their order at the car. I simply wore my mask and had gloves readily available to pick out food and handle money.”

Fresh Start Market has since resumed allowing customers inside the store but curbside service remains a popular option.

“Curbside will forever be a staple at Fresh Start Market,” Singer said. 

Staying apart while growing closer together 

Singer said that throughout the pandemic, local suppliers and shops have worked to support the community’s needs, and in return, the community has supported its small local businesses.

Meeting the pandemic crises “really showed me how much appreciation folks have when you do your very best to take care of them,” she said. “I really enjoy seeing people happy and eating healthy. I live in a very special community in which we are supportive of each other.”