Popular produce, fruit stand draw devoted customers
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Who: Bill Pace, owner of Bill Pace Fruit and Produce in Bellevue.
New face for an old business: After nearly three decades of selling fresh fruit from the back of a pickup, Pace has gone upscale.
In a small, high-ceilinged warehouse down a steep driveway from Bellevue Way, the 73-year-old Bellevue resident is busily running the only daily fruit and produce stand in a city where agriculture has given way to parking lots, homes and skyscrapers.
The store, begun a year ago, is frequently stocked with fruit fresh from Pace's farm in Yakima, which he visits most weeks. The farm got Pace into the produce business more than 30 years ago.
When he took the land over from his father, he started bringing fruit back to his home in Bellevue's Lake Hills neighborhood.
After friends discovered it, he began including them in his deliveries.
Eventually, that blossomed into an improvised evening fruit stand in the parking lot of the Bellevue lumber yard where Pace worked full time. He estimated he had 1,500 regular customers there.
When retirement isn't retirement: Last year, the city approached Pace and he struck a deal to set up shop at a building at Overlake Blueberry Farm, part of the Mercer Slough Park. At a time when many retirees focus on their golf game, Pace is hard at work.
He's expanded the stand to include fruit that isn't grown locally, like bananas. Stacks of jarred jelly and honey stand next to pallets of fresh strawberries. He's even started a brand of frozen fruit, Overlake Frozen Fruit.
A local draw for a local resident: The business has drawn a combination of devoted longtime customers, folks looking for fresh fruit, and people attracted by Pace's long standing in the community.
Jane Zakskorn, owner of the venerable Chace's Pancake Corral restaurant, pulled into the produce stand recently. She was drawn by the sign at the edge of Bellevue Way that is one of the few indicators of the stand's existence.
There, she discovered a friend and former golf partner of her deceased father, Bill Chace.
Since then, she has begun buying fruit and produce from him. It means an extra trip, but it's worth it to patronize a local dedicated to his work, she said.
"He's just a man who has passion for his business," she said.
Charity blended with business: Pace is also incorporating another passion of his: charitable work.
He is a longtime Kiwanis Club representative for high-school civic organizations called Key Clubs, and Key Club students work summers at the stand packaging blueberries from the farm. A share of the revenue is funneled to the clubs.
Pace gives a quarter of his share to the Key Club, keeping enough to pay for the equipment he bought to clean, sort and package the berries, he said. The students don't get paid.
Pace is also a fixture at Highland Community Center, a city-run facility for people with developmental disabilities.
He hopes to bring some people with disabilities to work side by side with the students, giving them work skills and exposure to other people.
His work recently earned him an award from the group Bellevue Youth Link for his years of work with children.
"I don't know how he does it, but he's an incredible force in our community," said Dan Lassiter, who runs the community center.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or email@example.com
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