When John Chartier opened Youngstock’s Country Farms on James Street in 1972, he didn’t have many neighbors.
Today, he’s in the heart of a bustling business district that includes Trader Joe’s, Kulshan Brewing Co., and many small restaurants and business offices.
Chartier, 68, has managed to maintain the feel of a country farmstand in the midst of all that, with a sawdust floor and fruits and vegetables stacked in neat pyramids under an awning roof.
The offerings include some greens — such as kale, basil and kohlrabi — that Chartier grows himself on a small piece of county property, as well as a wide range of familiar and not-so-familiar items, from apples, pears, bananas and cantaloupe to yucca root, ginger, nopal cactus, okra and a variety of chili peppers.
Chartier started the business as a sideline, offering nursery stock that gave the place its name. Because that business was seasonal, Chartier began selling fruits and vegetables to keep some money coming in year-round. He and his old Chevy pickup made the long haul to Eastern Washington to pick up inventory, and Chartier discovered he could sell the stuff as fast as he could unload it.
“I had a line of 30 to 40 people that first day,” he recalls — but that was partly because he was slow running the till and making change at first.
For the first few years, Chartier kept his job on the night shift at the old Uniflite boat-building plant in Fairhaven, but eventually his business venture grew big enough to support himself and his family, and allowed him to purchase the site he had been renting.
Chartier usually starts his workday before 6 in the morning. In the two hours before the place opens for business at 8 a.m., he and his staff of three or four keep busy moving the fruits and vegetables out of cold storage and into neat piles in the stalls. Customers who show up before the official opening time aren’t turned away.
“It’s not like the supermarket where (employees) are in the window looking at you waiting for the doors to open,” Chartier says.
He and his workers make sure Youngstock’s clientele will find the produce in neat piles, looking untouched.
“If I don’t keep it mounded, I can’t sell it,” Chartier says. “Rotation is a big part of my business.”
Now, after more than 40 years, Chartier hopes he can find a family member or someone else willing to take on the workload involved in keeping Youngstock’s alive as a Bellingham tradition.
“I love this business,” he says. “It’s like a baby I raised. Every day, all day long, I hear ‘Thanks for being here, don’t ever leave.’ … I hope it’s here for years to come.”
John Stark is a Bellingham writer.
Youngstock’s Country Farms
Location: 2237 James St., Bellingham.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Details: 360-733-1866 and Facebook.