Commuter Profile: Robyn Hillman-Harrigan and Lillian Gerson
Image courtesy of Andrew Hinderaker
Occupation?ROBYN: We’re the bosses of Shore Fruit, the Rockaway’s only mobile, bicycle-powered, cut-fruit cart.
That’s pretty great. Where’d the idea come from? ROBYN: We have a houseboat here in the Rockaways and were thinking about what we were going to do this summer. We thought it would be great to be able to work by the beach and be part of the community. And we knew we wanted to be on a bike, and we wanted to sell something healthy.
You sell mango, pineapple and watermelon? Why did you choose those fruits?ROBYN: Well, Lillian’s obsessed with watermelon. LILLIAN: I love watermelon. I’ve been very much in love with the fruit of watermelon since I was five. I won a watermelon seed-spitting contest in Luling, Texas. They had a long, painted asphalt “spitway.” My seed went 31 feet, I think. I have a trophy. ROBYN: But also watermelon, pineapple and mango all have very good colors. They look good together and they taste good together. They’re beach fruits, kind of refreshing when you’ve been in the water. LILLIAN: The kabobs are topped with a blueberry, for pizzazz. We use local, organic produce as much as possible, so our watermelons are organic, our mangoes and blueberries are from Upstate or New Jersey. ROBYN: But the pineapple’s a little hard to find organic. LILLIAN: Or local.
How important is your bike to your business? ROBYN: The bicycle has a lot to do with it. You’re on the level of people when you’re riding around on the boardwalk. People take pictures all the time. The tricycle and the big papier-mâché fruit kabob are a conversation starter. Kids come up and point to it. Sometimes kids are like, “I don’t want fruit.” And then they see the kabob and are like, “Oh, I want that!” It makes it more fun. It’s not boring fruit.
Do you ever lose a customer for selling the healthy thing? LILLIAN: That happens sometimes. People just want their Coke. ROBYN: We’re OK with that. We know we could make more money if we sold Coke and French fries. LILLIAN: But it’s not only about making money. A lot of people actually come to us wanting a Coke or a Pepsi, and leave with a coconut water or one of the all-natural drinks we sell. We sell flavored sparkling water, but we call it soda. It’s actually sparkling juice. But when I yell “grape soda,” I get more responses than when I yell “grape spritzer, organic juice and seltzer!”
You must meet a lot of New Yorkers in a day. Do you have any favorites?LILLIAN: I have one. My favorite is probably this guy who’s always out here flying a kite— ROBYN: I was going to say Kite Man! LILLIAN: One day he said to me, “Hey, watermelon lady.” And I said, “Hey, Kite Man.” Now, sometimes we give each other high fives.
It’s already August. What happens to Shore Fruit at the summer’s end?LILLIAN: We want to start doing events. That’s our next endeavor. We want to do Shore Fruit takes gay weddings. I heard the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck was at Christine Quinn’s wedding. We want to do her next wedding. ROBYN: We can say, “Buy fruits by fruits!”
SHORE FRUIT CAN BE FOUND ON THE BOARDWALK AT ROCKAWAY BEACH, FROM BEACH 86TH STREET TO BEACH 106TH STREET, WEDNESDAY
THROUGH SUNDAY, FROM 11AM TO 7PM, THROUGH LABOR DAY.