BELMONT — He is named after the Greek demi-god Heracles, but he likes to be called Herk. His accent is thick, hair salty gray, and his glasses frame bright eyes that seem to spark when you ask him about the basil plants growing outside the front door. For about 15 years, Herk Kotzabaldiris has owned and operated the little Star K gas station in Belmont with his wife, Irina. Their little store is stuffed to the ceiling with typical mini-mart fare, soda and candy advertisements, and a counter full of lotto ticket shelves. Every morning, Kotzabaldiris relaxes outside under a makeshift arbor covered with a spindly bunch of grapevines at a table for one. He prays and then tends to his garden, which envelops one entire outer wall of the building and extends to neatly aligned tomato plants along the hedges on both sides of the parking lot.
Dwarf peach trees, still big enough to bear fruit, dot the grassy areas near the sidewalk; large wooden barrels house vining flowers between the gas pumps. The peach trees were planted from a single peach pit, after Kotzabaldiris ate the fruit, of course. In a Mediterranean lilt, he admits to a “love for nature” and says he takes care of his plants “just for fun.”
None of the produce makes it to market. Customers benefit from his hobby as he routinely lets them cut a tomato or two. His corner store crop is nearly gone; some have gone to nocturnal animals. Kotzabaldiris says that many mornings are spent cleaning up after raccoons and squirrels that plague his peach trees and sneak the grapes hanging from the arbor. He can’t stay angry, he says. He lets them eat their full share. Star K gas, 368 Pleasant St., Belmont.