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Find Out What's In Store: Mrs. Ruth's Country Market

May 24, 2022 01:08PM ● By Kristie Darling

(Pictured left to right: Alisha, Mrs. Ruth, Julie, Erin, & Sean)

Our little bit of heaven here in Iredell County is home to many farmers’ markets and roadside attractions billowing with fresh produce and homemade goodies. We might imagine that the entrepreneurs manning these rustic stands are all old-timey, country-grown farmers who work from dawn to dusk growing delicious vegetables, fruits, and flowers, when in fact, each market is different, their histories unique. At the center of Mrs. Ruth’s County Market, you will find a family team of all ages and skills behind the scenes…with a truly unique history. 

“We started out 14 years ago as a Christmas tree lot,” Julie Helms remembers. “I asked my mom, our namesake, Mrs. Ruth, if we could set up Christmas trees for sale in her front yard, and she just said, ‘Go ask your dad,’ knowing he would say yes. We set it up as a business for our family. That first season, we brought about 50 hand-picked trees down from the mountains, and sold 25, mostly to friends and family.” The startup, on an acre at their house in Shepherd’s Crossing, just north of downtown Mooresville on Hwy 21, has grown over the years into a fresh food market each spring, summer, and fall that transforms into a bustling Christmas tree lot around Thanksgiving. Last year, they started with 600 trees and ordered another 600+ before the season was done.

“We opened the Country Market in 2011 but had to close for ten years when I took a long break to take care of Mom and Dad,” Julie said. “This is our second year back…our doors are open, and we’re back up!” 

A Family Enterprise 

Rilee delivering trees

Sean and Ron Craig, and their mom, Julie, are the go-to managers who keep things running smoothly and the tables, bins, and shelves stocked. “It’s all about taking care of our customers. The entire family gets involved…my two boys and their children have been hands-on from the beginning,” Julie continued. “I have four grandkids who work in the Market… from six-year-old Rilee, who has taken on the sale of tree-toppers, the little table-top size Christmas trees, as her personal niche, to ten-year-old Foster, who helps sell trees and serves customers, to Dustin, our 19-year-old firefighter who makes deliveries, and then Destiny, who works wherever she’s needed. Julie’s sons, Sean and Ron work at the Market, and their wives, Alisha and Erin, are also on board. And, of course, Mrs. Ruth oversees it all. “At Christmastime, Rilee is our powerhouse tree-seller,” Ruth said. “This is what she knows to do for fun, but she will give you a piece of her mind if she thinks you should be working harder. She’s a sweet little saleswoman…she’ll pack up your little tree and put it in your car.” 

What's In Store At Mrs. Ruth's

“We specialize in bringing local farmers’ produce to market,” Sean says. “Pretty much except for the avocados and a few other items we carry, it’s all local.” This time of year, cucumbers, zucchini, and yellow neck squash, both white and sweet potatoes, onions, alongside South Carolina peaches, blueberries, black berries, and melons fill the bins. Corn throughout summer. Mrs. Ruth’s tomatoes come from right down the road in China Grove, and in the cooler among other goodies, you will find the rare, ice-cold bottled beverages. “Customer favorites, jalapeño pickled eggs and homemade pork rinds, go fast. We have local pasture raised beef and pork, plus we carry local honey, Ashe County cheeses, fresh eggs, Conrad & Hinkle pimento cheese, a variety of home-canned jams, jellies, and dips from Huntersville, Carson’s pickles, hanging baskets, bedding plants, and planters. Since we just reopened, we’re seeing more and more people realize we’re here again, and they stop by to shop. For many, this is much better than a big grocery story for really fresh and delicious food. And, we have fun here!”

Out Back

Sean and Ron are working on an expansion of the site. “My background is sales and marketing, so that’s what I bring to this business. Ron is the builder, so he oversees our construction going on. We're planning to build a larger Market in the back,” Sean said. “Our plan is to expand a little bit every year while watching our customer base increase and learning more about our neighbors.” Right now, six goats and 10 chickens hang out behind the market where kids love to visit. “We keep them because lots of kids don’t get to see animals like that up-close, and it’s so much fun.” Currently, Sam, Mr. Jingles, Blue, Hank, Cupid, Cletus, Wobbles, and Little Mama come running up to the fence when someone comes by. Families from as far away as Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, and Wilmington come back to visit Mrs. Ruth’s goats and buy fresh groceries or Christmas trees on a regular basis.

A Most Interesting Family Story

Surprisingly, the deep background behind Mrs. Ruth’s Country Market doesn’t begin on a farm, at all. “My daddy, Ramon Napolitano, came to Charlotte by way of London, Australia, New York City, Atlantic City, and Philadelphia,” Julie shared. “He jumped ship in New York, snuck off without registering, got sick on his way to Texas, and only made it as far as Charlotte. Daddy once told a reporter, “I went into Presbyterian Hospital, and that’s where I met my wife…I married a girl, and quickly had a kid so they couldn’t throw me out (of the United States.)” 

Ramon married Barbara Ruth Kennedy…Mrs. Ruth…in 1953, and it was in Charlotte that his long career as the world-class wrestler known as Tinker Todd or Ray St. Claire began. “My grandad wrestled all over the world…England, India, Singapore, at Madison Square Garden in the 1960s,” Sean remembered, “but he’s most associated with the Carolinas. He settled and started homesteading here in Shepherd’s Crossing on the north side of Mooresville. Around here, he was a popular character, with a thick British accent. He was smart and interesting and was known to tell a tale or two. I remember Davidson College professors coming to talk with him because he knew British history and was fascinated with World War II…he knew everything you could know about all seven Bibles. He never stopped learning. And he was funny, too.”

Ramon “Mr. Ruth” Napolitano died in 2013. Barbara Ruth continues at the Market, helping and keeping us on our toes. “I felt honored when Julie asked to have this family business right here at home,” Ruth says. “Things have changed as our family has grown, but so much is like old-times.”

During special events, Ruth’s Country Market and Christmas Trees invites artisans and crafters and food trucks in the parking lot, and you will always find some farm animals of variety, hot chocolate during winter seasons, and with Rilee pushing the little trees at Christmas, but deep down, it’s still a family owned-and-operated, local farm market with lots of history and plenty of charm.