When South End pedestrians peek through the window of the new Snap Top Market on Columbus Avenue, they see neatly arranged pyramids of Bartlett, Green Anjou, and Star Crimson pears. Apples such as Honey Crisp, Cortland, and McIntosh are piled nearby. Owner Steve Napoli is the person who stacks the fruit, helps customers, and works as cashier. The merchant is a solo act, but he’s not worried. At 26, Napoli is already well trained and experienced in the business.
He was raised working in his family’s Idylwilde Farms in Acton. At 11, he accompanied his father, David, on predawn runs to the New England Produce Center in Chelsea. David Napoli is the youngest of the three brothers to run the farm and market started by Steve Napoli’s grandfather. “I learned everything from my dad,” says Steve Napoli, who worked there for years with his brother and cousins. He later became the produce buyer for their store.
But Napoli had a dream to run his own business and to move into the city. “My family was very supportive,” he says. He rented and renovated the vacant storefront at the Bryant condominium complex and did most of the carpentry himself. He sold his Arlington condo and moved to South Boston to be closer to Snap Top. The store is on a street lined with offices, condominiums, and brownstones. “There’s a demand for fresh food around here,” says the retailer. On the second day he opened there was a steady stream of customers.
The space has the rusticity of a rural shop. Old fruit crates hang on walls and are filled with bananas. Weathered apple bins, turned upside down, display tomatoes from Backyard Farms in Maine and huge heads of garlic. Leafy greens and organic and seasonal produce sit on long antique tables. Not all the produce is local or regional. “I’ll buy whatever tastes the best,” he says.
To make homemade meals quicker, Napoli preps and packages produce (ends are snipped on haricots verts, the slender green beans, kale is cut-up, fingerling potatoes include herbs and root vegetables and are ready to pop into the oven).
Shelves are stocked with containers of Mission figs and other dried fruits, nuts, and crackers. There’s a dairy case with cheeses, yogurt, and hummus from Hull’s To Dine For. Breads come daily from Concord’s Nashoba Brook Bakery, baked goods from Stowe’s Babycakes & Confections. “This is a specialty convenience store. But you won’t come in here with a shopping cart,” he says.
This shop has competition in the South End. Foodie’s Urban Market on Washington Street, a neighborhood grocery less than a half-mile away, sells a wide selection of produce and staples from dozens of regional vendors. Not far is Siena Farms South End on Waltham Street, a mini farm store that offers hand-picked produce from owner Chris Kurth’s Sudbury Farm and other local growers. The Five Seventy Market on Tremont is an upscale convenience store where you can pop in and grab an apple or a head of broccoli.
Perhaps the South End will become like some European cities in which each little neighborhood pocket has its own produce market.
The word snap in the new market is a combination of the first letter of Napoli’s first name, and the first part of his family name. The logo is a carrot with greens attached. In produce business lingo, says the merchant, a snap top refers to a carrot. As it happens, he does sell carrots, but never with their greens.
“No one in the city wants carrots with tops. It’s my logo, but it’s a tough sell.”
Snap Top Market, 303 Columbus Ave., Boston, www.snaptopmarket.com