ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. | The first thing Uncle Don sold at his business five years ago wasn’t for sale.
“That was me right there, 297 square feet,” Don Maxey said pointing out a door near his counter to a single open room.
He had fresh tomatoes, squash and zucchinis and since it was fall, he wanted to decorate a little to catch the attention of passers-by.
“I bought some pumpkins retail and put them out front. A woman walks in and says, ‘I’ll take one of those pumpkins,’ ” he said.
He was a little chagrined at the time, but that’s how his business works now: He sells what people want, within reasonable mileage, of course.
When a woman asks if he stocks a particular food item, Maxey answers with the question, “Do I need to?”
If there’s enough demand, he’ll get it, and that’s the way things work in a lot of St. Simons’ eclectic little shops. No CEO or buyer in Atlanta or Chicago decides on consumer tastes. And the customers’ tastes at Uncle Don’s Local Market are varied. He apologizes to a woman for being out of strawberry lavender jam, which she professes to love.
But he did have other flavors of jam — carrot cake, jalapeno lime fiesta and blueberry wine among others, and green tomato chutney.
If he’s out, he’s fresh out and as a sign proclaims, “Fresh, Fun, From Around Here.”
He buys hydroponically grown butter crunch lettuce in Odum, gets fresh strawberries and tomatoes out of Florida and some oddly colored carrots and spring onions sit in a pan “with their feet in the water.” A sign out front advertises local eggs.
Not that he doesn’t disappoint some people because it’s hard to buy local and organic. With the closing of some organic operations, there just isn’t enough variety nearby to stock his store, Maxey said.
“I would probably have about four items,” he said. “I’m more local than organic.”
When a man handed four tomatoes to Maxey, he weighed them, handed the customer back his change and started bagging them. Seeing a couple of spots on top of a couple, he handed him $1 back.
The man would probably want to trim off those little spots, Maxey explained, and thus the discount.
He has a lot more room now, having expanded into what was once an antique shop where there are lamps, clothes, art, jewelry, furniture and other things, many handcrafted nearby. The merchants lease the sales space from Maxey.
Near the counter are bottles of Ellis Point Honey, all of them dark wildflower honey. To a woman who asks if it’s true that local honey protects against allergies, Maxey says he knows of no study or proof. But he knows of a woman who could barely venture outside until she starting eating local honey, and it’s very local. To test the theory, she and her husband have hives in their backyard on the south end of St. Simons, and she gets out all she wants.
So what’s local honey? Maxey doesn’t say, but the rule of thumb for those who swear by it is that for it to work, the producing hives need to be within 50 miles of the user’s nose and sinuses.
Unlike allergy medications, the honey label has no warnings against drowsiness, limits on teaspoonfuls in a 24-hour period or against operating heavy machinery.
Unlike tablets, pills and capsules, honey tastes good.
There should be a warning, however, to keep it out of the reach of children. Otherwise, everything in the house will be sticky.
Maxey ran low on honey last week, but he didn’t have to pay extra for a rush re-supply. He just drove his pickup over to Ellis Point north of Brunswick and got another load from Penny and Gale Smith.
Eleven miles as the pickup rolls — less by flying crow — qualifies as local.
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