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KENT, CT - "This is how it all began."

That's the phrase on the outside of the Davis IGA Inc. store, right next to photos showing the store's grand opening in 1974. There are also ads from that day 35 years ago, listing prices and specials, such as bananas for 23 cents per pound, cabbage for 23 cents per pound, pears for 49 cents per pound, and three-pound bags of Red Delicious apples for 99 cents. The photos not only portray how the store and the people looked back then but also give a sense of the store's roots in the community.

The Davis IGA store, located here in northwestern Connecticut, a few miles from the New York state border, was founded May 30, 1974, by Charlie and Anne Davis. Their three children -- Gary Davis, Marie Roze and Audrey Davis -- are now the owners.

Charlie Davis had worked for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. "from when he was 16," before deciding to open his own store, according to Gary Davis, who was in college when the store opened.

The store is about 8,700 square feet -- small compared to some of the supercenters of the 21st century -- but it carries an amazing variety of fresh produce from all over the world, both conventional and organic.

It is the first department shoppers see as they enter the store. And the retailer plans to expand and remodel the produce department next year with upgrades such as five-deck casing, according to Mr. Davis.

Noting that the produce department is "very important" to the overall health of the store, Mr. Davis added, "The fresh aspect is what people are looking for. Everybody's looking for fresh - and they should be."

While this retailer offers its customers produce from many areas of the country and abroad, it especially enjoys handling items from its home state. The local season was running late this year due in large part to the very rainy month of June, so it had very few local items on display when The Produce News visited here July 15.

But local corn, green beans, green squash and yellow squash were expected to arrive within the next day or two, according to Frank Cilurso, a produce merchandiser with Bozzuto's Inc., the Cheshire, CT-based wholesaler grocer that has been the retailer's primary supplier since it opened on that day in 1974.

The store will be featuring the full array of items from the Nutmeg State that were expected to follow on the heels of those items, utilizing banners, signage and other point-of-sale materials from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, as usual, said Mr. Davis.

Shoppers always look forward to the local items, according to John Grant, the store's produce manager, describing Kent and its surroundings as an upscale area with "highly educated" consumers and high incomes.

"They are very informed shoppers," he stated. Their interest in and desire for fresh items has helped make the produce department a key aspect of the store, accounting for about 16 percent of total sales, said Mr. Grant, who has been here for about three years and was at Carluzzi's Food Market for eight years before that.

The store does "very well with organics," stated Mr. Davis. "That's one area that will be expanded" when the produce department upgrades are completed.

But the store is likely to retain its small-town atmosphere and attention to customer service. As Mr. Davis put it, "Small and old-fashioned -- that's a plus for us."

(For more on Connecticut produce, see the Aug. 3 issue of The Produce News.)