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Andy's Produce Market started out in 1964 as a humble, open-air farmstand, located along a busy stretch of Highway 116, just north of Sebastopol.

Tourists would stop by on their way to the Russian River to stock up on nuts and fresh fruit for their summer get-aways.

"People would stop here on their way to the beach," said Kathryn Skikos, who founded the farmstand with her husband, Andy. "That was our main business."

These days, Andy's is still feeding the tourists, but its clientele also includes locals. And its shelves are stocked with all kinds of kitchen essentials: dairy and eggs, grains and nut butters, frozen meats and poultry, cheese and wine, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Four upgrades and 50 years later, founders Andy and Kathryn Skikos have handed off the farmstand to their children and grandchildren, passing along the core values that have led to their long-term success.

"My philosophy is tomorrow," said Andy, who started easing out of the business five years ago. "If you take care of your customers today, they will be back tomorrow."

During its 50th anniversary celebration in early May, loyal customers came back to pay their respects to the venerable business that now employs 55 people, including several family members.

The Skikos family itself now boasts 62 members, including spouses, and spans four generations. Three of the 19 grandchildren work at Andy's full-time: Katie Heing, in retail; Josh Skikos, in wholesale; and Jina Homan, in accounting.

"We feel very blessed that the children and grandchildren are interested in the business," Andy said. "It's very important that the next generation has the love and the passion for it."

Giving back to the community has always been important to Andy and his wife, who have always lent a helping hand to the less fortunate.

A founding member of the Redwood Empire Food Bank, Andy served for many years as president of St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Catholic volunteer organization dedicated to serving the poor, and remains active.

"I always make sure I know the milk, bread and egg prices," said their daughter Kim Heing, who works part-time at Andy's. "They have to be cheap, because that's what people live on. That's his philosophy: Feed the people."

A humble man who grew up as one of eight kids in Ogden, Utah, Andy was always busy helping out his family wtih their farm.

"We used to peddle our produce door to door," he said. "In the off-season, we'd go and buy produce. From January through March ... it was starvation time."

Looking for something more stable for his growing family of five children, Andy set off for Northern California in his late 20s and fell in love with Sonoma County.

"Andy said he found Eden," Kathryn recalled. "So we got an old truck and packed it up, and out we came."

In 1963, the couple opened their first farmstand on Sebastopol Road in Santa Rosa. A year later, they opened a second farmstand in a former nursery in Sebastopol.

Eventually, the couple would launch a total of five farmstands in the North Bay. But in the 1970s, they decided to concentrate on the Sebastopol store — "the crown jewel." Then they expanded into the wholesale and trucking business, which secured them extra buying power and lower prices for the consumer.

"We started a truck company so we could pick up directly from the valley farmers," Andy recalled. "At one time, we had 10 trucks."

These days, the farmstand has two semi-trailer trucks that pick up produce in San Francisco, and five smaller trucks that deliver to local businesses such as Molsberry Market in Larkfield and the Gypsy Cafe in Sebastopol.

Over the years, Andy's has kept up with the food trends, expanding its organic produce, natural foods and bulk departments, which now carries healthy grains like farro and amaranth.

"We stay on trend," Katie said.

"We stock Straus and Clover dairy, and there's an entire aisle of gluten-free products."

In the summer, the farmstand also buys fruit and vegetables from local farmers, and in season, they carry local organic blueberries and apples.

Through every upgrade, the family has kept the front wall open in an effort to maintain the old-fashioned charm of the original farmstand.

At the moment, customer demand is high for the stonefruits of spring, from cherries to apricots, as well as the fresh king salmon from Bodega Bay.

"I like the atmosphere," said regular customer Ari Parks of Freestone. "It's local. I know who I'm supporting, and all the employees are friendly."

About 10 years ago, Highway 116 was expanded to include a turning lane, making it safer for cars turning into the parking lot. A few years ago, the West County Regional Trail bike path opened, bringing a new wave of customers in spandex.

"We get a ton of cyclists," Josh said. "We cater to them with the coffee area, bike racks and accessible bathrooms."

The success of the little farmstand may also be attributed to the fact that everyone — from regular customers to part-time employees — is treated like family.

"This is one big family business," Andy said. "Even for those who aren't family."

(You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.)

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