For decades, Kevin Huebscher has watched nearby farm stands fall prey to big box stores and convenience. But he held on. For 42 years, he eked out a living slinging his fruits and vegetables along the road in Inver Grove Heights.
“I don’t know anything else,” he said.
But also, he added, he felt needed. People have come, on average 100 a day, seven days a week in the summer, to visit Kev’s Korner — a neighborhood institution of fresh produce, kitsch and corny jokes.
That ended last week when Huebscher, 50, closed one of the last roadside markets in Dakota County. He has been leasing the land and had to close because the property owner plans to sell it to a housing developer, he said.
But even in the market’s last week it was business — and jokes — as usual.
“Everything’s got to go! Even me,” Huebscher told Caroline Julik, of Eagan, as the young mother perused seven varieties of apples.
“How about an onion for tonight’s hamburgers?” he cajoled.
“Look, they’re as big as her head!” he said, smiling at Julik’s daughter.
Julik said she hadn’t been to Huebscher’s market in at least four years, and was not anticipating that last week’s visit would be her last. She used to stop by when she lived in Inver Grove Heights and said she was hoping to visit Kev’s Korner again next season.
“I forgot how cute it is,” she said, surveying the parking lot brimming with pumpkins the Friday before Halloween.
Spooky music played, the cashier wore a witch’s hat and decorations were scattered throughout the store — but not as many as past years, Huebscher said. He’s been busy handling the closure.
Huebscher had plans for the future of Kev’s Korner. He recently added a new roof on the white market, a structure he described as having “an addition on to the addition on to the addition.” He wanted to sell smoothies and start marketing “Sundaes on Sunday.”
Now, he said he will find temporary jobs and chop and sell firewood.
He would eventually consider starting another market, but said it would be a part-time job. With Kev’s Korner, he woke up at 5 a.m. to work on the farm and continued working until long after the market closed at 7 p.m.
He sunk a lot of money into the operation and did not make very much, Huebscher said. He lost the market property to foreclosure a few years ago.
People often said, “ ‘Oh, what a cute place,’ ” he said. “It’s just what can we do to keep them coming back?”
His prices were higher than many grocery stores, so the fun experience was crucial to attract regulars, he said.
Even in lean years, Huebscher said his farmer’s mind-set kept him going — there’s always next season.
John Sahli was one of his repeat customers. The South St. Paul resident stopped by the market last week to pick up a pumpkin with his daughter. Their family has bought pumpkins from Huebscher for decades, Sahli said, and he sometimes stopped by to grab tomatoes when his garden wasn’t producing.
“It’s just always very folksy,” he said of Kev’s Korner. “I always like to patronize the local guys.”
They’ll have to find a new local guy next year, Sahli said. Then he hopped in his car and took off as Huebscher waved goodbye.