‘The good things start small’

Ali and Nora Alquraisha opened Camas Fresh Produce to revive old-fashioned neighborhood ideals.

“I believe in the old-style neighborhood butcher block and produce stand,” said Ali Alquraisha. “I have always wanted a little produce stand by my house.”

Before opening the store in October 2004, he worked 17 years in produce for large companies such as Fred Meyer, Albertson’s and Thriftway. The couple started the business after moving to Washougal from Portland.

The idea of running a smaller produce store appealed to Alquraisha for several reasons, including the ability to support local farmers and be directly involved in the local economy.

The business saw profits in its second year, but Alquraisha did not disclose financial information.

“We are able to compete with Wal-Mart (locally) because our product is made in the United States,” he said. “It’s all about pricing and quality. People come here all the time – the good things start small.”

Alquraisha buys produce from about 20 farmers in Southwest Washington as well as Hood River, Gresham and Troutdale from March to October, when local produce is available.

In the winter, he buys from California, then Florida. When those supplies run out, he buys from countries such as Mexico and Chile.

Working with local and U.S. suppliers is especially important to Alquraisha during slow economic times, when rising gas prices are adding to food costs. He’s looking for partners to start an organization to certify local businesses that get at least half of their products from U.S. suppliers.

“If people want to get certified, it means there’s interest and you can look at it as a movement,” he said. “If you get enough people that believe in the local economy, it will make a difference.”

At least 90 percent of Camas Fresh Produce’s food comes from U.S. suppliers, Alquraisha said. Many of those suppliers are certified through the Food Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable and responsible agricultural practices.

Along with its owners, Camas Fresh Produce has four full-time employees. They aren’t receiving benefits yet, but Alquraisha plans to add them as the business grows.

In about a year, the Alquraishas hope to build a larger store on adjacent property they own. The new space would increase the store from 2,800 square feet to 5,000 square feet, making room for more organic produce, an old-style bakery and butcher block.

“We don’t have to worry about getting too big,” Alquraisha said. “It’s not really our store, we just work here. It belongs to the community. Without them we wouldn’t be here, literally.”

Camas Fresh Produce

Ali and Nora Alquraisha, owners

2940 N.E. Everett St., Camas

360-834-4657

Charity Thompson can be reached at cthompson@vbjusa.com.