by J.J. Jensen
After 33 years of working sunrise-to-sunset days as the owner of Youngstock’s Country Farms Nursery and Produce, John Chartier, an admitted perfectionist, recently realized the stress the job was causing him.
“I’m constantly worrying about the business, I can’t take a break,” he said during the early hours of May 26, his last day on the job, as he hustled between cantaloupe, strawberry and apple displays, pricing produce and overseeing several deliveries of fruits and vegetables.
“It’s taken a toll on my body,” the 58-year-old Chartier said. “It’s time to get away – or bury me here in the sawdust.”
Though choosing the first option may be as difficult as a day of digging potatoes, Chartier believes he’s leaving his business in good hands – his 22-year-old son John Chartier III, or “Johnny,” as family members and folks around the store affectionately call him.
“He’ll do a good job. I can’t see how he can’t, I’ve taught him well,” said the straight-faced senior Chartier.
Indeed, say family members and those who know the Chartiers, John has taught Johnny, as well as his other three sons who’ve all worked at the business, the importance of hard work and attention to detail.
Ever since John opened Youngstock’s in 1972, along with his best friend and current Joe’s Garden owner, Carl Weston, he’s put in grueling hours.
As a young man, working at Youngstock’s was just the beginning of his day. He’d wake at dawn, arrive at the stand – which at the time was just a few picnic tables – at 7 a.m. to set up the plants and produce, then work an eight-hour shift. When most guys his age were calling it a day, it was then off to Uniflite, where he built boats until 1 a.m.
Eventually, John was doing well enough at the stand to make it his full-time job. However, the hours he was working didn’t drastically decrease, as he always found something else around the store that needed to be done.
“I didn’t like any idle time,” he said. “I always felt there was a dollar to be made.”
In recent years, John made the decision to start his own farm and greenhouse near Laurel and stock his store with mostly his own produce and flowers, rather than buying them all from distributors.
Through the years, his wife, Judy, whom he met at the store, and sons Joe, 26, Tim, 25, Johnny, and Tristan, 17, have worked at the family business in some capacity.
Though Joe ended up working for Sound Beverage, Tim became a firefighter in Baltimore, and Tristan still attends high school, they all still help at the stand when needed.
Johnny, however, said he always saw himself one day running the family business.
Some of his earliest memories were playing in the banana boxes as a toddler, meeting neighbors, riding his bike in the nearby Sunnyland neighborhood, and stuffing himself on fruit.
Going through a “rebellion phase” a few years ago, in which he dropped out of high school and took at job at Taco Bell, Johnny said he realized the family business was truly where he belonged.
First, he missed working outside at the open-air stand.
“Working outside is much better, as opposed to being behind a fast-food fryer,” Johnny said.
Also, a corporate environment didn’t feel right to him.
“I felt like just a number,” Johnny said. “And I think you get a lot better service at a family business.”
Finally, he said, he noticed how much joy it brought his father to interact with his customers every day, and he began to understand what it meant to be part of a business that touched so many lives in the community.
“One day, I saw a younger lady, about 19, come in crying and go up to my dad,” Johnny said. “She said, ‘Everything in my life has changed except this store.’ That’s when it began to sink in what this place means to a lot of people.”
John, who’d been considering retirement for several years, said it was his connection with his customers that kept him from leaving sooner.
“It’s this place, this community, that kept me here. I love my people,” he said. “I don’t know everybody’s name but I can tell you what happened in their lives 15 years ago. Every day, there’s someone who says, ‘Please don’t ever leave this corner.'”
Johnny, who’s shy, said he has a long way to go before he’s as comfortable with customers as his dad. But, as a new business owner, husband and father of two young children, he’s learned from his father to always push himself harder.
“I didn’t like it when I was younger but it makes sense now,” he said. “Even on my day off, I’m building something or doing something constructive.”
Weston believes John’s character and business traits will rub off on Johnny.
“Johnny’s been working there since he was born,” Weston said. “(Running the business) is something he’ll pick up and enjoy and he’ll follow in his dad’s footsteps. His dad’s done a wonderful job.”
Judy, who will also retire from the store this year, said she plans to travel to local parks and lakes this summer with John for the first time in decades, and that the changing of the guard will be a good thing for both Johns.
“I feel that the customers will be in good hands with John Jr.,” she said. “He’s still learning but he’s had a good teacher. As far as John Sr., I’m sure he’ll be missed because he loved his customers and his business. It was a hard decision for him that took him a couple years to make, and feel comfortable with. He had a really strong work ethic, so it’s hard there, but it’s good for him mentally and physically.”
by J.J. Jensen