In the 1970s it was a tiny shack on the edge of Manhattan. Today Terry Olson’s East Side and West Side Markets are well-organized businesses on opposite sides of town. But the idea that drives Terry Olson hasn’t changed. She strives to provide the most tasty produce available on the market at the moment.
Olson has roots in truck farming. Her parents lived in Manhattan, but also owned a garden out of town. Her dad sold produce door to door and his nine children helped. “Our St. Bernard monster’s dog pulled our cart full of vegetables,” Olson recalled.
When she was in a middle school, her parents purchased a tiny greenhouse that became a bedding plants business. Again the siblings were the work force, learning the bedding plants business.
Knowing the hardship of the farming business from her childhood, Olson was determined to go to college. “I watched my parents worry so much whether the weather would be good for selling plants, whether the weather would freeze their crop,” she explained.
She studied pre-medicine at KU , but by her own admission was not a good student. “I wasn’t really interested in saving people’s lives or taking care of sick people,” Olson said. “I loved plants and produce. And even when I was at school in Lawrence, I was visiting nurseries and trying to convince them to sell my parents’ plants.”
Once she realized she wasn’t really interested being a doctor she came back to Manhattan and enrolled in the horticulture program at K-State. However she didn’t finish her degree as the opportunity be a fruit marketer came along and overtook all her other interests.
Beginning as a part-time employee at the Eastside Market, Olson bought it in 1976. Five years later she opened Westside Market. After the redevelopment of the downtown in the mid 1980s, she rebuilt Eastside market, and the former shack became a heated and air-conditioned grocery operated year-round.
She gets the produce from various suppliers, both local and shipped from other states. There just two conditions she considers: taste and the value. That’s why in July she ships peaches from Missouri and California, in August from Colorado and later in the fall from Idaho.
Along with the idea of selling tasty produce, she found other niches. In the spring she specializes in bedding plants that she takes from her parents’ greenhouse at Kaw Valley. In the fall she is mostly busy with presents for Christmas.
Her favorite part of the job is still working one on one with customers. Like a beginning gardener, she is fascinated helping them to find vegetable plants that are recommended for this area, then hearing from them tell what success they had.
“It’s a rewarding experience sharing my hobbies with customers,” she said.
Lennis Holle, Marysville, came with his wife, Janice, to shop at the Eastside market for the first time. “I think it’s wonderful,” Holle said. “The selection is fantastic.”
Sometimes Olson has to stop selling certain items of produce due to competition from large retail chains. But she has her niche, which is tasty produce.
“You back out of the things that you can’t compete well,” Olson said “You give it and say I can’t do that, but what I can do and what I’ve always have done well is deliver great tasting produce.”
Olson doesn’t think consumers should shop at her store just because it’s local.
“I don’t want them to do it because they feel guilty because I’m a little guy,” she said. “I want them to do it because I’ve got what they want, what they want to pay and I deliver it with the great service.”