Family-run store has prospered
June 13, 2008 · Updated 11:20 AM
By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA
He lived at 2548 23rd St., Astoria, N.Y. She lived at 2131 25th Road, also in Astoria. They knew each other since kindergarten, spoke of marriage at 13 and eloped when he was 18 and she was 17.
Today, Eddie and Marilyn Cerbone look toward their 50th wedding anniversary In November, and the 24th anniversary of their small produce business named Cerbones coming up in January.
Sure, youre buying our produce, but at the same time youre part of whats happening in our little building, Eddie said. Someone is talking, youre being asked to sample this, taste that. Advised as to whats ripe, whats sweet and delicious.
In that produce store, located on Pacific Highway South near South 312th Street, lemons, gourds, pineapples, mangos, tomatoes, peaches, bananas and other produce are piled on tables. Italian classics drift from the CD boombox at the back of the shop. Family photos are taped here and there. A black and white-framed Marx brothers photo adorns a wall.
And handmade signs created by the couples son Edward adorn the walls. One says, Lettuce be your market.
Twin Lakes resident Carol Colwell has been a customer at Cerbones since she moved to Washington almost a year ago. Their prices are almost always the best, Colwell said. Its fresh. And theyre really nice.
Murray Baker has been shopping at Cerbones for almost 10 years. Good products here, and the prices are quite reasonable. And the operators are friendly people, he said.
In the late-1950s, after his stint in the Army, Eddie and Marilyn moved to California, where they first developed their passion for produce. There, at age 23, Eddie met Danny Tullio, the father of Army buddy Bob Tullio.
Danny ran his own produce store and became a father figure to Eddie, whose own father died when Eddie was 7 years old. The hanging bananas, piles of tomatoes and apples and other produce drew Eddie in. But the lessons he learned from Danny made him stay.
More than that, Danny was a gentleman, a hard worker, a savvy businessman and a man full of praise. Under Dannys tutelage, Eddie learned the produce business and soon owned his own produce business in Los Angeles. It lasted 25 years.
Yearning for fresher air, Eddie, Marilyn and their family of five children moved to Washington in 1979. They drove up in five cars.
Since then, Eddie and his family have run Cerbones in Federal Way. Although their three other children no longer participate full-time in the business, daughters Marilyn Jr. and Cerri still greet customers, offer pineapple samples and ring up purchases.
Good afternoon, ladies, the younger Marilyn says as two customers walk in. Hello, hon, how are you doing? She offers them a piece of fruit.
Although the Cerbones buy their produce from the same produce suppliers of many supermarkets, their prices are lower. Marilyn, who does bookkeeping, said they can keep their overhead low by eschewing refrigerated cases, using second-hand equipment and cleaning the shop themselves. They pass the savings on to their customers.
And because Cerbones is an independent, small business, all their advertising is through word-of-mouth referrals the old-fashioned way.
I never regretted my choice, Eddie said. In L.A., I was always Eddie. From the opening of our little business, I have always been Mr. Cerbone. I have always appreciated that.
Some days, Eddie said, Ive gone home dead tired. But I get up the next morning to go to work.
If Cerbones has a statement, it would be that the little guy can be successful if he is truly in love with his choice of profession. If he surrounds himself with good people and blessed with a family that just wont quit.
Despite the recession, Cerbones produce has survived and done well. Marilyn said selling produce will never lead to wealth, but it can be a good way to make a living.
In tough times, people will go back to the basics, Eddie said. Potatoes, onions, all the greens, fruits and nuts and all natures best for staying slim, trim and alive.
So, customers continue to buy. To makes ends meet and cut their costs, some people switch from buying produce at large supermarkets to buying at Cerbones.
Our family is very thankful for all the wonderful people (who have) touched our lives, Eddie said.
But he said the future of Cerbones is in question. He and his wife would like to spend more time with their grandchildren, something thats difficult to do while Marilyn does bookkeeping and he comes in early each morning. And they want their grandchildren to have a much better education than they had, and thats a difficult goal to attain if the grandchildren are working produce seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
It was my love, Eddie said, I dont foresee it being in the third generation.
Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, email@example.com