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Pete’s Farm Market an icon of Chicago independents

CHICAGO — Pete’s Farm Market is an icon of Chicago’s retail scene.

Behind its unit at 43rd and Pulaski the nine-store chain operates its own refrigerated warehouse to receive direct truckloads of produce. Still, Pete’s produce buyer Steve Sotirakopulos said he shops the Chicago International Produce Market on a daily basis.

“We try to buy the best produce around,” Sotirakopulos said.

2014-4-23-1137-George-PapadGeorge Papadatos, store manager, stands in the foyer of his Pete’s Farm Market store.The Produce News visited the aforementioned store, which is a few miles from the market and managed by George Papadatos. Papadatos said his 65,000-square-foot store is in a generally Hispanic neighborhood and the store certainly offers volumes of produce targeted to that market. “But the trend is changing. We are buying other items. We carry produce to please everybody in this middle-class neighborhood of Archer Heights.” At least seven varieties of hot peppers are on display. The milpero and standard-sized tomatillos are available.

Papadatos estimated that a third of his store is dedicated to produce. In late April, watermelon in bins lined the walk leading to the front door. An attractive corridor to the second entry (a good, warm defense to Chicago winters!) was lined with cantaloupes, honeydew and lime displays. During the soaring lime market, limes were $1.89 for a two pound bag. Bagged oranges and massive bulk displays of pineapple and Maradol papayas finished the walk to the second door. Huge displays of several mango varieties were just inside the door, setting the tone for the large and very appealing produce department. The store sells pallet-volumes of mangos every week.

Refrigerated displays surround bin displays “to give it a fresh, farm look,” Papadatos said. The bins were dummied to be only two inches deep. The bin displays are constantly reset to maintain freshness.

Cut fruit is among the refrigerated items. The fruit is cut in the back of the store.

Every display is labeled with the country or U.S.-state of origin.

The bulk displays “made Pete’s what we are. Customers are not sold what we want to sell them.” Instead, the store provides what customers want. Papadatos said his store offers almost all ethnic products, but his buyers will still try to fulfill requests for very unusual items.

Furthermore, “we strive for customer service. It is a friendly store. It’s a family-run business. We have people come from 30 or 40 miles just to shop here.”

Sotirakopulos said the Pete’s stores are mostly on the South Side of Chicago. The newest store is on Oak Brook Terrace. “We have a new store coming at Madison and Western” that is to open in early June. “There are three or four more in the works.”