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Fruit store withers at season's conclusion

ASHLAND -- Seth Saturn has closed Johnny Kiwiseed's Ashland Fruit Safari, citing a lack of support from local customers and a more expensive location.

People value sameness and convenience more than uniqueness and service, he said.

Saturn said he spent $4,000 on advertising and used local flyers to drum up interest in his store's assortment of fruit and specialty fruit products.

The store featured about 400 varieties of fruit -- fresh, pickled, dried and in jam, jelly, conserves, preserves, syrup, compote, marmalade, butter, spread, mustard, ketchup, vinegar, vinaigrette, cakes and bars. And about 200 varieties were available for tasting.

We tried a juice bar and a restaurant, but it didn't help, he said. We got great media coverage. We got two three-page spreads in national magazines.

Saturn opened the business in June 1996 on First Street. He said that he'd like to have a location on Main Street, and he moved to 253 E. Main St. a year later. But that turned out to be part of the business's undoing.

In our old location, we had a 90 percent buy-rate for people who came into the store, he said. People who come in here (Main Street) are just doing the `mall crawl' up one side of the street and down the other -- half the time they don't even know what kind of business it is.

He said the new space was far more expensive.

We were paying $2,500 a month in rent, he said. That's $1 a square foot. Rents in Ashland are outrageous. You're paying L.A. or Portland rates for a place that doesn't have the business -- and it's even more expensive toward the plaza. This space would have cost us $3,750 on the plaza.

He and his brother, Chip Saturn, started a mail-order fruit business in the Portland area before taking it to the storefront.

They thought Ashland would be a promising location because of the influx of tourists for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Indeed, tourists sustained the business through the theater season, he said.

There was a huge drop in sales the day after the festival closed, he said. We had a little blip at Christmas, but you could have parked an aircraft carrier in Ashland. Everybody was at the mall in Medford.

The last day for the business was Sunday.

Saturn said he is working to sustain a mail-order and wholesale business. He's retained a toll-free number (800) 219-9071 and a P.O. Box 1268 in Ashland. He's hoping to sell the concept to a company that will develop a national market.