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Four days a week, Jim Ramsey wakes up at 4 a.m., hops into his white Ford pickup and drives to the Farmer's Market in Forest Park; just so Covington residents can have fresh tomatoes.

 Ramsey operates a small produce stand on Usher Street in the location that once housed a Thrift Oil Company service station.

Four years ago, after he couldn't find a decent tomato at the grocery store, Ramsey opened his small produce business.

 "Chain stores don't handle vine-ripened tomatoes," Ramsey said. "For a tomato to taste good, it has to be vine-ripened."

 Ramsey is a Covington native, having grown up on Floyd Street and graduated from Newton High School.

 Like many young men, Ramsey enjoyed sports and played baseball and basketball in high school. In fact, Ramsey played on legendary Newton Ram basketball coach Ron Bradley's first team.

 "He worked us hard and by the end of the year, the B team was beating the varsity," Ramsey said of Bradley. "There were a lot of people over the years who meant a lot to me and he's one of them."

 But Ramsey faced a choice after high school of working on his grandfather's farm or attending college. He chose college and studied at Emory, earning a bachelor's degree in business.

 Ramsey worked at Kroger during high school and spent five years with the company after his graduation from Emory.

 But in 1970, Ramsey opened his own supermarket in the Cliftondale community of College Park and operated the store until 1990.

"I like making my own decisions and I saw them (Kroger) doing a lot of stuff I didn't agree with," he said with a chuckle. "It helped me make the decision to start my own business when I did."

Ramsey said things were tight in the beginning and even though he worked through the growing pains of starting a business, he knows he could have made more money working in a corporation.

"When you work for Kroger, you don't have to worry about paying the power bill," he said. "It was rough for the first three years, but things got better. Still, I never really got back to the point where I was making as much as I was at Kroger."

For Ramsey, the ability to dictate his business meant more than wealth. But changing conditions in the community overtook the success of his store and in 1990, he sold the business.

After Ramsey sold his supermarket, he opened Jim's Produce, also in Fulton County. Ramsey operated the stand for four years and said he did very well, but in 1994 Ramsey's life changed.

"My father got sick and I was coming back to Covington three days a week to help out," he said. "It was getting more and more difficult to live down there, and have to come out here."

It was while visiting his father at Newton Medical Center that Ramsey said divine intervention hit him square in the face.

"I was coming off the elevator at the hospital when I bumped into a woman and almost knocked her over," he recalled. "When I looked up, I recognized her as a friend from high school."

Ramsey said Laurie was as a former classmate since kindergarten. They talked for a while after the encounter and began dating shortly after.

Ramsey moved back to Covington later that year, went back to work at Kroger and married Laurie in 1995. He retired from Kroger in 2004, but after two months of boredom, Ramsey knew he needed something to do.

"I just couldn't sit around the house with nothing to do," he said. "I saw that this place was available and I stopped in to see about renting it out. That's how I got back into it."

In a landscape dominated by Wal-Mart Supercenters and wholesale discount clubs, operating a small open-air supermarket may be a thing of the past. Fuel prices are causing food prices to soar and the costs of goods sold have risen across the board.

But Ramsey said business is good and he doesn't let extraneous circumstances affect him. He estimates his business has grown five times since 2004 and said the spring and summer months are particularly busy.

Even though inflation and gas prices have affected even him, Ramsey said it's not about huge profits.

"It used to cost me about $15 in gas to go to the market everyday, and now it's close to $30," he said. "But as long as I can manage to make everything work, I won't change my prices."

After 40 years as a grocer, Ramsey has honed his craft and maintains the same philosophy he adopted when he started his first grocery store 38 years ago. He doesn't make much money, but he enjoys the people and said he plans to work his as long as he's able to.

"I always said when I retire, I'm going to sit on the side of the road and sell tomatoes," he smiled.