Open market

Andrew Cone, AB’06, and Steven Lucy, AB’06, have established a new produce store at 55th and Cornell. But Open Produce, now about a month old, offers more than fresh vegetables. Cone and Lucy also have plans to make information available to customers about how they run the shop and buy their goods—the theory is that if people know how the produce gets and stays on the shelf, they might not mind paying a bit more for it. On the blog that the partners have used to document the store’s opening, Lucy says they have set a January 1 goal for total transparency: “bank account statements, wholesale receipts, sales data, and everything else.” Before the partners decided to become social entrepreneurs, they worked in banking and information technology—and the idea of “open” business comes from open-source programming, when the source code for software is made available for public collaboration.


I stopped by the shop on an overcast Friday morning with the single mission of acquiring pumpkins for a carving party I’m hosting tonight. According to Lucy’s blog, the store had recently purchased about 700 pounds of carving pumpkins (the bin cost $115, about twice as much as it would have last year—pumpkins are among many goods that have seen rising prices). They’re selling the pumpkins for $5 apiece, and because my party is not BYOP, that price sounded good to me. Recent graduate David Richter, AB’08, was working in the store—moving tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and eggplants across the shelves. “I originally walked in to buy produce,” said Richter. “And then it occurred to me that they might be hiring.” Open Produce, he added, already has cultivated some appreciative customers. “People tend to be happy when they’re about to make dinner,” he said. “Transparency is a big part of it and a good business practice.”

I browsed the store: a bag of leeks was retailing for $1, and the store’s eccentric variety of non-produce items included kimchee, vegan cheese, and Mexican candy bought in Pilsen. Much of the produce comes from the Chicago International Produce Market, but the owners use several dry-goods wholesalers. Shortly I realized there was no way I would be able to carry home the requisite number of pumpkins—they are gigantic and heavy. Instead I settled for a few huge heads of red cabbage and some plump Asian pears, and happily sidled home. I’ll have to come back for my jack-o-lanterns.

Rose Schapiro, '09

October 24, 2008