May 7, 2012
Robert Moehling took a chore and built it into a business
We just returned home from Key West, Florida. We had a guide book to help us choose what fun things to do. Inside, a recommendation was made to visit a fresh fruit stand on the way. It is called "Robert is Here." That's a really strange name for a fruit stand, so I had to find out what was going on. In finding out, I thought it was fun enough to share with you this week.
Over 50 years ago, a 6 year old kid named Robert Moehling was sent outside to the corner to sell some extra home-grown cucumbers. Times were hard and his family needed the money. When he came in at dark, he hadn't sold any. His father thought the reason might be that they couldn't' see the little boy selling the produce. He made him a sign on old shutters that read, 'Robert is Here!' and staked it near where he sent Robert to hawk the cucumbers the next day. That day, many people stopped and bought cucumbers from Robert. He sold all his cucumbers by noon and walked home. That was just the beginning of a success story.
Within a few weeks, other farmers started adding to Robert's pile of vegetables to sell, and Robert managed to sell them all. When school started, Robert set up the stand before school and put a coffee can there for people to pay for the produce they took. When he got off the bus, he'd go back to his stand and sell the produce personally. "It was something that I had to do to keep the family's head above water," Robert said. "The first year or so it was sustaining an income we didn't have, because dad was really busted out." Imagine-- his friends were all out playing and having fun, but Robert was manning a fruit and vegetable stand. That might have bothered him, but Robert took it in stride.
By the time he was nine, he had hired a lady to manage the stand while he was in school. Then he'd cover it after school. He earned enough money selling produce at this little stand that by the time he was 14, he bought a house on 10 acres of land nearby and rented the house out. He planted avocado trees on the acreage and looked for more land to buy. He bought land in 5 or 10 acre plots and farmed it, adding to his produce stand vegetables to sell.
Over time, Robert has added many more fruits and vegetables to his open-air market, including some exotic ones I've never seen before. He also added homemade jams, convenience items and fresh squeezed juices. (I watched some guys out back squeezing oranges into jugs. Cool machine that does it.) They also serve many varieties of shakes using their fresh fruit. (The key lime was fabulous.) Additionally, he added a water play area and a petting zoo behind the store. Most noticeably, his little shutters announcing he was there has been replaced by large white letters across the top of a respectable open-air market. Robert is still here on the same corner he sold the cucumbers in 1959, but he's surely made it something better.
Tourists love this place. Locals can count on being able to buy high quality fresh produce, and local farmers add theirs to his merchandise. I don't agree with all of his business choices (I'd let the poor animals in the petting zoo go free for one…), but he's a success story. Robert took a chore to help his family out and turned it into a thriving business. Now Robert is preparing to turn it over to his four kids, who all went to college and one by one have returned to the fruit stand to help out.
To learn more, see http://www.robertishere.com/xcart/home.php
Fischer, David. USA Today Travel, "Robert is Still Here: Florida Fruit Stand turns 50", July 22, 2010, found at http://travel.usatoday.com/destinations/2010-07-22-florida-fruit-stand_N.htm