ARLINGTON — After some consideration, Maria Vrotsos shuffled over to grab one more bag of pasta to add to her already-teetering stash. She was stockpiling.
“Maybe somebody else open someplace?” she asked.
“That would be nice, Maria,” Georgia said, shifting from Greek to English.
Georgia Rozanitis had already spent the morning breaking the news over and over. The chimes hanging over the front door jangled as it swung open only to stop halfway. Everyone was pausing to read the sign. “WE ARE RETIRING,” it began.
After 43 years selling produce and Greek specialties to Arlington and beyond, Christo’s Fruit Market is now running down its clock. The store will shut its doors for good at the end of September.
In the beginning, Georgia and Christos Rozanitis worked seven days a week. He woke up at 5 a.m. to go to the market and then stayed in the shop until 2 a.m. to finish the fruit baskets, which she delivered all day on Christmas Eve. They were closed only a few days the whole year, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Greek Orthodox Easter.
“Everybody does that. In this business? In those days? Everybody used to work like that,” Christos said. “That’s why you get burnt out.”
The couple recalled staying open during the Blizzard of ’78, the catastrophic nor’easter that carpeted Boston in more than two feet of snow. Nobody had any money, but they didn’t mind. They let the IOUs pile up next to the register and told their customers to come back when the banks reopened.
Just 21 and 23 years old, the newlyweds opened their fruit stand’s doors in November 1976. Both children of Greek immigrants, they filled the store with their childhoods. Glass jars stuffed full of grape leaves or sour cherry preserves; olive oil soap wrapped in paper packages; Greek honey, Greek coffee, and Greek yogurt before everyone had it. They could hardly keep up with the town’s appetite for feta.
The shop began in a tiny space packed to the rafters with everything from Oreos to Loukoumi, sugar-dusted, rose-flavored jelly cubes from Greece. After about a decade, they moved to a larger store just down the street.
The couple sold loaves and loaves of Tsoureki, the holiday bread Georgia remembered her mother making in bulk as a child — the kind you could smell baking from all the way down the street. They still stock its ingredients, even those you can’t buy most places: mastic gum from the Greek Island of Chios; mahleb, an aromatic spice made from the pit of a sour cherry; and the “right kind” of flour.
In its heyday, the shop sold more than a dozen kinds of olive oil. Now, it sells four. (But when a jug gets dented, Georgia and Christos still lug it home to use in their own kitchen.)
It was long before Arlington had ATMs. The store stayed open late on payday so the regulars could cash their checks at the bank next door and have time to do their weekly shopping.
They were busiest around Greek Orthodox Easter, picking up orders of the special holiday bread multiple times a day and stacking crates of eggs on the ground when the fridges were too full. In the mid-80s, they hired a couple of family members to help run things.
The once-bustling shop is quieter now. They don’t need the extra hands.
Now 67, Christos wears braces on his knees. His shoulders are worn down from lifting boxes filled with produce every morning.
“We’re tired,” Georgia, who is now 65, said. “We’ve worked hard. We’ve worked hard all of our life.”
The couple has seen their storefront neighbors come and go. They still know some people — the man who owns the Town Tavern across the street, where they like to go for truffle fries, the woman who paints Georgia’s nails — but not everyone. The neighborhood feels different.
“I got a yoga studio over there,” Georgia said. “My customers don’t go to a yoga studio, you know what I mean?”
Mass. Ave. has seen immense change in the years Georgia and Christos have watched over it. Georgia went to all of the local meetings when they were taking about the years-long project to renovate the street. She fought for the store’s four parking spaces, but they were taken away to widen the sidewalk.
Elderly customers who used to drive to the store don’t anymore, she said.
“All this business over here never recovered, three, four years ago when they did Mass. Avenue over,” Christos said.
The way people shop is different, too. Little markets can’t compete with superstores. Not many people do their weekly shopping at Christo’s anymore.
“Stores started opening up too like Costco, people buy things in bulk and think they’re getting such a big deal — I guess they do,” Georgia said. “So, things change. Times change. People change.”
Edi Friedlander said she still feels like she runs into Christo’s for something every day. Monday, she cradled an armful of mozzarella.
“This is what makes the community a community,” she said. “It’s really a shame.”
“Is this the only place I can get my mizithra?” Margaret Otis asked, distressed.
“I don’t know, honey,” Georgia said.
“This should hold me for a while, I guess,” Otis sighed, counting out cash from her wallet. She left the store, shopping bags weighed down with pounds of the dry, salty cheese.
The couple isn’t retiring now for any one reason, Georgia said, and no, they aren’t sure what’s next. She says there’s plenty for her and Christos to do around the house.
“I know we’re closing, but I don’t think it’s really hit us,” Georgia said. “I don’t think it’s sunk in that we won’t be doing this anymore.”
While she reminisced with customers Tuesday, Christos sat behind the counter, dutifully manning the cash register. Though the store bears his name, he’s quiet about his thoughts on moving on.
Is he excited? Sad?
“I don’t know,” he said, looking out at the shop’s dwindling inventory.
“It is bittersweet,” Georgia said. That’s what she tells everyone. “We’re happy, but we’re sad.”
They took stock of the building that’s seen nearly their entire marriage, pointing to the area where people used to fight over the last Tsoureki, gesturing toward the spot in the road where the baker would always bang a U-turn but never get caught.
“We did a lot over the years, Chris,” Georgia said. “We did a lot, honey.”
He nodded, smiling.