Allen Curtis considered becoming a preacher. Like a preacher, Curtis is motivated to make a positive difference in the lives of others through his career.
Instead of working for a church, Curtis owns Veggies, Fruits and More, a produce and dry goods store located at 362 W. King St. in downtown Boone.
Set across from the “gateway to ASU,” Curtis aims for the shop to serve as a vehicle for impacting students’ lives in a positive way, he said. Money is not the driving force behind the business — customers are.
“It’s not for money, it’s not for the riches or fame, it’s to make a difference in the students’ lives,” Curtis said. “I love my business, but I love the students more. They have my heart.”
Curtis was born into a farming family in Morganton and moved to Boone after marrying his wife, Susan Curtis. The two have been married for 29 years and have three children and four grandchildren.
Faith guided Curtis to start selling produce and local goods with his son four years ago at his first store on the NC-105 Extension. Though the family struggled financially, they started the store with the help and support of the community. The day the original store opened, Curtis had only had one dollar to his name, he said.
“I didn’t have a dime and this man and woman comes to me and hands me a check for $500 and said, ‘This is our gift, we want to be part of what you’re doing,’” Curtis said. “So there are people who believe in what I’m doing, they believe in what I stand for and they know my heart. Do I wish I had more money? Sure I do, everybody does. But it’s not about the money, it’s about changing lives.”
In January of 2014, the town of Boone informed Curtis of his eviction due to upcoming construction of the franchise restaurant Zaxby’s. For several months, Curtis searched for a new location and sold goods on the side of the road, he said.
Curtis did not want to move too far out of town for fear App State students would no longer be able to reach the store. After facing resistance from the Town of Boone on commercial guidelines, he found a new location on King Street. Immediately, Curtis contacted the owner and leased the space.
The building was previously abandoned for two years due to faulty plumbing on the second floor, Curtis said. After two months of renovating, painting and improvements to the ceiling and floor, Veggies, Fruits and More opened for business last November.
Since the move, his customers have changed, Curtis said. The locals in the community avoid the store due to traffic congestion and so business is almost completely generated by students.
“One thing I do is respect these kids and they respect me,” Curtis said. “Here’s the thing I realize — even if they don’t change now, sometime or another they’re going to remember an old, fat ugly man that loved them and showed them great respect. They’ll remember some of the things I told them.”
The students are loyal to him, Curtis said. One day when the store’s credit card machine broke, he encouraged customers to sign their tickets and come back when the machine started working. Every student came back to pay what they owed.
“I remember when the machine was broken,” said local waitress Alex Garcia. “At first I thought [Curtis] was joking when he let me walk out without paying — of course I was going to go back and pay him. What a nice thing to do.”
Customers provide Curtis with validation of his positive influence over their lives, Curtis said. On more than one occasion students have told him that they love him and appreciate the work he is doing.
Mary-Catherine Duffer has supported Curtis’ business for over two years. While Curtis searched for a new store, Duffer continued to shop at his stand and offered to help him, earning herself a position as an employee at the new location.
“Allen [Curtis] is a character, I never know what to expect from him,” Duffer said. “He has had a great influence on my experience here in Boone, he is a strong member of our community and I would say that Allen has a great relationship with the students. He loves talking to people.”
Curtis said now more than ever it is important to become involved in student life with the alarming number of student deaths occurring in recent months. Last year alone, Appalachian State University faced nine student deaths relating to suicide, drug overdose and various accidents. This semester, there has been one death of a student due to drug overdose, reported in September.
“That should not be,” Curtis said. “It really bothers me.”
Since the deaths, the counseling center on campus has increased staff levels and appointed a director of wellness and prevention. Curtis hopes to help by making himself available for students to come to with their problems. He enjoys speaking with the students because they, like him, are driven to make a difference in their community.
“How would you describe me in one word?” Curtis asked a student from Appalachian State. The student replied, “Wholesome.”
“Wholesome?” Curtis said. “I was going to say caring — but I’ll agree with that.”
In return for their respect, Curtis treats his students the same way he treats his children. In the months in which Veggies, Fruits and More has been open, Curtis has succeeded in his mission of establishing a positive relationship with the students of ASU.
“If it’s all for self-gain, you could die a millionaire, but when you die you’re just like everybody else,” Curtis said. “You can’t take it with you. I can’t tell you I don’t want to make money, that’s not what I’m saying, but I’m saying there’s more to it than a George Washington or an Abraham Lincoln.”
Aleah Warner, Intern A&E Reporter