Local news

Feeding the city, in more ways than one

SUNDAY, AUG. 31, 2008

Jim Clancy. Saving the world. One cucumber at a time.

OK. That’s an oversimplification.

Everybody knows, including the irascible motormouth Clancy, that it takes more than cucumbers to save the world.

There must be spuds. And carrots, too.

In fact, a full array of amazingly low-priced fresh vegetables and fruits can be found at Clancy’s Produce, located in a parking lot behind Spokane’s landmark Maxwell House Restaurant at Maxwell and Ash.

I’m talking cabbages at 49 cents a pound.

Corn? How do four ears for a buck sound?

When I showed up the other day, Clancy was selling beautiful bags of green seedless grapes – $3 for an entire case of them – and 15-pound bags of potatoes for $2.

But saving greenbacks on greens is just part of the Jim Clancy story.

See, this no ordinary produce stand.

This is a mission.

Clancy, who turns 80 next month, funnels all the stand’s profits to a chapter of Footprinters, a pro-law enforcement organization that, in turn, helps fund a number of area charities and nonprofits.

The retired city bus driver also bestows an untold amount of his edibles on anyone who comes by in need.

“I’m an old farmer from New Jersey,” he told me not long after I introduced myself. “I remember the Depression days. If people are hungry I give them (produce).”

I’ve had easier interviews.

Clancy talks nonstop. And fast. Try as I might, my pen lagged a few syllables behind his patter.

“Happy New Year,” he told a customer.

That’s one of Clancy’s favorite expressions.

When he wasn’t talking, Clancy was moving here and there, flitting about with an energy not often seen in someone nudging up against the big Eight-Oh.

While bragging about his nectarines, Clancy, a short, barrel-chested guy, suddenly launched into an animated side story about how his doctor is convinced that the fruit stand keeps Clancy alive.

No argument here.

Of course, I’m not breaking any ground here. (Agricultural pun intended.) The newspaper has profiled Clancy’s good works a couple of times over the years.

My effort today is to remind everybody that this oasis of good will in the impoverished West Central neighborhood is up and running.

See, this has been a bummer of a summer at the produce stand. The customer flow has dropped by Clancy’s estimate from hundreds a day to maybe 35.

High gas prices no doubt have played a role in the downturn. But the main culprit has been the glacial-paced repair project that has torn up Maple Street.

“Last summer that place was crawling with old folks and poor folks and immigrant folks and folks like me who wander down from the South Hill in search of deals and smiles,” Jan Evancho wrote in a recent e-mail to me.

“This year it’s not crowded because it’s hard to get to in the construction zone, but well worth the effort.”

The good news is that Maple soon will open to a river of traffic. Hopefully, activity at Clancy’s Produce will get back to normal as well.

Clancy runs his enterprise six months a year, from May through Halloween. The stand is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Clancy devotes Wednesdays to procuring fruits and vegetables from an Otis Orchards farm and a Spokane produce supplier.

Clancy couldn’t do what he does without the generous support of Maxwell House owner Rich Culnane, one of Clancy’s longtime friends.

Culnane donates the space for the stand as well as a cooler and storage room inside the Maxwell House.

So that’s my tip for today. Next time you’re out and about, make a stop at Clancy’s Produce. Even if you don’t buy anything, meeting Clancy will be worth the trip.

“He’s just really good-hearted,” said Clancy’s wife, Judy. “It’s surprising more people don’t know that we’re there.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.


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