Names That Take A Stand

ROB KASPER'S MARYLAND

September 11, 1994|By ROB KASPER

How does a roadside produce stand get its name? That is a question I often ask myself as I ride through the Eastern Shore on U.S. 50. This bit of mental amusement is no substitute for the enjoyment that comes from stopping at a stand and feasting on ripe plums, watermelon, cantaloupes or tomatoes. But it gets me down the road.

For years I have guessed at origins of various names. Recently I checked up on my guesswork by interviewing some stand owners. I had figured, for instance, that the Toadvine Farms stand, west of Salisbury on Route 50 just past Naylor Mill Road, got its name from the family that ran it. But then cynicism seeped in and I wondered if produce stands, like so many other parts of American life, had been taken over by large corporations that had purchased the rights to the family name.

I was relieved when a Shirley Toadvine answered the phone and told me that she and her husband, Theodore, and their four children had been working at that Toadvine Farms stand for about the past 25 summers. Running a produce stand is too much work for corporate types, Mrs. Toadvine said.

Similarly, I was reassured to learn that there really is a farmer named John -- John Selby -- associated with Farmer John's produce stand on Route 8 on Kent Island, at the eastern foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. At the age of 77, Farmer John was still going strong. The day I talked with him on a mobile telephone, he was busy checking on the drip irrigation system he uses on a patch of tomatoes.

Some stands have more than one story behind their names. Take Pop-Pop's, a combination produce stand and hardware store on Route 50 in Mardela Springs. Since "Pop-Pop" is a common nickname for grandfathers, I guessed that the stand was named after a grandfather. I was partially right. The proprietor, John W. Corbett, was indeed a granddad. When I spoke with him on the telephone I could hear a grandchild clamoring in the background.

However, he picked up the nickname "Pop-Pop" at the age of 18 when his hair turned prematurely gray. So when he opened the hardware store nine years ago, "I figured I would just stick with the name Pop-Pop's," he said. Three years later he opened the produce stand right next to the hardware store. Recently, he began closing out the hardware store side and plans to move Pop-Pop's produce operation into the vacated hardware store.

In addition to his gray hair and his status as a grandfather, there was one other reason Mr. Corbett's stand was known as Pop-Pop's. Mr. Corbett has the habit of handing out frozen fruit pops to children of customers.

My biggest challenge came from a stand in Mardela Springs near the Sharpstown-Mardela Springs Road intersection with Route 50. The stand had two names and neither of them made sense to me. One was the Hilltop Market. That was what one sign hanging on a pole outside the market called it. But faded green letters on the facade of the building proclaimed that it was A Thinking Man's Market.

It looked to me like the building was sitting on the edge of a flat field, not on top of a hill. Moreover, I couldn't figure out the connection between "thinking" and tomatoes. For me, buying home-grown tomatoes or any fresh fruit or vegetable is an act of passion, not of intellect.

Kathy Rounds straightened me out, as best she could. She and her husband, Sam, have owned the stand since 1976. Mrs. Rounds said there was a hill on the stretch of Route 50. "It is a little hill, but it is a hill," she said, justifying the "hilltop" part of the name.

The origin of the name A Thinking Man's Market is fuzzier, she said. All she knew for sure was that the letters spelling out the name were on the building back in 1976 when she and her husband bought the place. Mrs. Rounds referred me to Suzanne Richards Hammond, a Salisbury-based writer who had done a story last year about the market for the Delmarva Farmer, a weekly paper published in Easton.

"I would drive past that market every day and wonder about that name," said Mrs. Hammond. One day she stopped at the market, talked to Mr. and Mrs. Rounds, and started her hunt for the origin of the name. She tracked down previous owners of the market or their relatives.

The most logical explanation, she said, was that the inscription was put on the market by its second owner, Elmer Hutchings. Hutchings, who died in the 1960s, was an entrepreneur. He acquired the stand in 1952 from Paul and Maurice Phillips by swapping it for 30 acres of marsh land and a tractor-trailer. Besides selling fruit and vegetables at the stand, Hutchings also sold lumber and barrels of oil, and ran a trucking operation from the spot.

I got a picture of Hutchings as a man who regarded himself as a free-thinking, risk-taking businessman. A man who in a gesture that was part advertisement and part sermon, would call his produce stand A Thinking Man's Market.

Mrs. Hammond also offered a historical note. Hutchings acquired the stand in 1952 -- the year the Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened. Unlike now, when cars jam the highway, back then traffic along Route 50 was light. That meant when you owned a produce stand, you had time to sit and think.

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