If it's not fresh and from Md., it's not here Produce: For 16 years, the LaMartina family has been selling fruits and vegetables from a stand in Linthicum.

August 04, 1996|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

For 16 years, season after season, customers return to LaMartina's produce stand in Linthicum to buy Maryland-grown tomatoes and potatoes, string beans, watermelons and cantaloupes because, they say, if it isn't fresh, the LaMartinas won't sell it.

"He only has the best produce, really, and it seems like he brings it in every day fresh from somewhere," said Jo Gurney as her husband, John, bagged a few potatoes. "This is a wonderful place."

Linda Johnson has been a customer at the stand on 3 acres at Schulamar Road and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard since it opened. Her daughter was one of the LaMartinas' first employees, but she keeps coming back because of the prices, which she says "are a lot more reasonable than you could buy in a store.

The business, which now takes up most of the corner, has brought Vincent LaMartina, 72, full circle. The fifth of Anthony and Rose LaMartina's seven children, he worked from the time he was 9 at his father's produce stand at Lexington Market in Baltimore, a block and a half from the family home on Greene Street.

When he was 18, LaMartina was drafted into the Army to fight in World War II. A year later, he was wounded by Japanese machine gun fire and lost part of his right arm. "It felt like an electric shock," LaMartina said.

He was discharged in 1945, but "didn't do anything for a while," he said. "I was more depressed." He bounced from job to job, working as a parking lot supervisor and pool hall manager. At one point, he owned a bar, then retired.

But his daughter kept nudging him about a produce stand.

"It was always in my blood, [but] out of my mind completely until she talked me into it," said LaMartina, a silver-haired man with brown eyes.

The first stand was a small, brown wooden building. The business quickly outgrew that and an addition was built.

The operation kept growing. A large, white canopy was added to the building, both allowing for expansion and protecting the fruit and vegetables from the sun. A greenhouse sits behind the stand. The LaMartinas grow flowers there for sale at the stand.

On a recent day, as sheets of rain fell, customers kept coming and coming to the stand with the white canopy. They knew that regardless of the weather, the LaMartinas would be there from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week from April through November.

"We never close, tornadoes, whatever," said Julie LaMartina, Vincent's daughter, who pitches in at the stand with her brother, Anthony LaMartina, a checker who processes cargo at the Port of Baltimore. Eleanor, their 70-year-old mother, used to help until she had a stroke.

Julie LaMartina runs the daily operation, including supervising 25 high school and college students who work there, while her father does all the stocking and buying from farmers from the Eastern Shore to Carroll County.

"We can't grow enough to sell ourselves," said Vincent LaMartina, who cultivates a few peppers, tomatoes and cantaloupes. He said the stand is successful because customers spread the word.

"We never advertise," he said. "People did the talking for us. People made us what we are."

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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