A mother-and-son team has opened a store in the former Hay’s Produce building, attempting to replicate the success of the longtime business that shuttered its doors about two years ago.

Sweet Melon Shack sells produce such as apples, oranges, blueberries, lettuce, onions and potatoes at 701 Bridge St. in Clarkston.

“We saw there was a void in the community when they left,” said Anthony Perez, an owner of the business with his mother, Amber Irish.

Much of the food is grown by nine farms throughout the Northwest, including one in Hermiston, Ore., which has an ownership stake in the business.

“Everything we get, we make sure it’s good produce before we sell it,” Perez said.

Just like Hay’s, Sweet Melon Shack sells huckleberry items such as jams and barbecue sauces. Perez and Irish plan to stock pumpkins in the fall, Christmas trees during the holidays and hopefully starter plants in the spring.

They found their vendors last summer when they tested the feasibility of the business by operating farm stands. They have maintained the stands and use the Clarkston brick and mortar store as a hub to stock the 10 sites in places like Winchester, Colfax, Orofino, Pullman and Moscow.

Part of the venture’s appeal for them is the opportunity to support local entrepreneurs. The Sweet Melon Shack, for example, sells cider from Wilson Banner Ranch west of Clarkston and honey from Waller Apiary in Clarkston.

Perez and Irish continue to look for other items made in the region that complement their inventory.

They’re also developing a weekend market for nonfood items crafted in north central Idaho, southeastern Washington and the greater Northwest that will be held in an outdoor area behind the store on Saturdays and Sundays.

Operating the Sweet Melon Shack is a big career shift for Perez and Irish. He was a graphic designer, and she worked in information technology before starting the business.

“We were both working office jobs, and we wanted to get a bit more active,” Perez said.

They chose to follow in the tradition of Hay’s largely because they patronized it so much. The store closed because Craig Hay, the son of the business’ founders, discovered he liked long-haul trucking more than running the retail store.

The property sold to Ronald and Anna Rae Flerchinger, the owners of Flerchinger Electric, who leased it to Perez and Irish in a multiyear agreement.

The new business owners are finding many community members missed Hay’s as much as they did.

“It’s been amazing,” Perez said. “Everybody who has come in has been super excited and happy.”

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261

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