The pickup pulled onto the Century 21 Arizona-Foothills office on East Chandler Boulevard in Ahwatukee just after 6 p.m. last Thursday.
Within a half-hour, a steady stream of Ahwatukee residents were pulling up with bushels, boxes and bags, ready to empty the contents of neatly stacked crates that awaited them.
Thanks to Century 21 branch manager Dayna Scott and an employee at Scizzors at Signatures Hair Salon, Caitlyn Garcia and her husband are in the lot every other Thursday – their next date is June 8 – with pre-ordered boxes of fruits and vegetables people can buy for nearly half their retail price.
Word of mouth eventually brought Ahwatukee together with Caitlyn Garcia, who lives with her husband and four kids in the West Valley.
The Garcias’ auxiliary business of getting fresh, reduced-price produce to people in the Valley goes back four years.
It started with a casual conversation between Caitlyn and her father, who inherited from his father the Grand Avenue Produce Co. of Peoria, which both men built from a roadside stand in 1946 to what is now one of Arizona’s largest wholesale distributors of fruits and vegetables.
“We were talking one night and my father started talking about how much people pay for vegetables and fruit and he was shocked at how expensive they are,” Garcia recalled. “We wanted to do something for the community so we came up with this.”
“This” was an idea to make boxes of about $40 worth of assorted vegetables and fruits and sell them for $20.
They started in two different locations in the West Valley and over time, the business has expanded to seven locations – one of them Ahwatukee.
“We don’t like to park somewhere without someone’s permission, so we have a church lot in one location, a preschool in another,” Garcia called.
One day last year, Garcia was talking with a friend who works at Scizzors at Signatures. She suggested Garcia come to Ahwatukee.
With already one spot in Central Phoenix, she thought it would be a good idea to branch out into another area, and she liked Ahwatukee.
“It’s a friendly place and the people are nice,” she said. “Ahwatukee was one of our top places on our list of places we would like to start stopping by.”
So, she got the word out on social media, directing interested customers to her Facebook page, Garcia Family Fruit of Happiness. There, they could place the mandatory pre-order and pick up their box of veggies and pay the $20 cash on the next visit.
But Garcia also was concerned about tying up the parking lot that is used by Signatures and several other businesses in the strip mall on the northwest corner of East Chandler Boulevard and 40th Street.
So about six months ago, two months after she had started selling her “boxes of happiness,” Garcia met Scott, who has been with Century 21 for 20 years.
“I like the fact that it’s a family-run business and we’re a family-run business,” Scott said. “I think it’s good because it involves the community and it’s good for Ahwatukee.”
Ahwatukee is one of seven locations that the Garcias visit, rotating them every two weeks.
They work two sites on any given evening and the stops don’t last long, since everything is pre-ordered. Customers have to bring their own containers to carry the produce away.
The boxes all contain the same assortment of fruits and vegetables on any given delivery date, but the contents change from visit to visit.
So far about 80 Ahwatukee residents have become regular patrons, and Garcia is hoping that as word spreads, more people will join that list.
“We have maybe 1,500 customers total,” Garcia said. “When we first started four years ago and we sold five boxes, I thought that was a good deal. Then we had 50, and now I am really pleased.”
Scott also is thrilled with the Garcias’ success.
“People are really happy with this. They get fresh produce with no pesticides at a discount price, and they get to meet some of their neighbors,” added Scott, who always orders a box that she leaves in the office for her colleagues to take what they want.
Orders must be placed on the Facebook site by the morning of the Thursday the Garcias will be visiting.
“We thought of having a pay-online feature but a lot of older people don’t like providing their credit card information online, so it’s cash upon delivery,” she said. Usually she posts on the Facebook page a week or so in advance what the next shipment will contain.
Hardly anyone who places an order fails to show up.
Garcia said she and her family don’t intend to make Ahwatukee their final location.
“We’d liked to expand,” she said, even though it takes them as long as an hour or more to drive from the West Valley to Ahwatukee. “Right now, we have a manpower situation, though, so we have to figure that out before we get more sites.”
But one thing she is certain of is that they’ll keep growing, explaining:
“We think it is a really good thing for the community and we want to grow.