After 33 years of delivering fresh produce and dry goods to Inuvik residents, the town’s “fruit man” said his aging body is warning him that he doesn’t have much gas left in the tank.
“I made a living. My daughter’s through university. I make my payments all the time. It’s just that my body is telling me I have to quit,” said Bill Rutherford, who’s often referred to as the fruit man. “That’s the disappointing thing right now, but that’s the way it is.”
Every year from January to April and then from June to October, Rutherford hauls around his mobile grocery store – which is in the form of an 18-wheeler cargo truck – packed with everything from fresh produce, coffee, cereal, popcorn and more. The products that he sells to residents from communities around the Beaufort Delta Region are bought from a Vancouver Costco, which he visits every three weeks.
“It’s a week of driving. It’s three-and-a-half days down there, and three-and-a-half days back,” he said.
He added that it’s his fresh products that keep people coming back for more, as well as his flexibility when it comes to prices.
“I don’t go around checking prices. I figured that the prices are better,” he said. “Not all of them, there might be some that’s more expensive than others. But I don’t check.”
Rutherford, who’s turning 68 in April, said he mostly just sets up shop in Inuvik now, as he can barely keep up with all of the travelling.
“I’d like to get out to the settlements, but my body is telling me that I have to slow down. I can’t do it like I used to,” he said. “I used to go to Inuvik and all the other settlements like Tuk, Aklavik and Fort McPherson in five days.”
Prior to coming to Inuvik in 1985, Rutherford sold apples from his orchard in Alberta before pursuing markets in Fort Nelson, BC, and Dawson City, Yukon.
“I went up to Inuvik and when I got here I knew I was going to be here for a while. I didn’t realize it was going to be this long,” he said.
August will officially mark 34 years since his move to Inuvik, and he said the residents were a huge factor in his decision to settle here.
“Lots of people appreciate what I’m doing. I have people coming in here every trip thanking me for what I’m doing,” he said. “When people are leaving town, they’ll say goodbye. Some people even give me cards. That’s one thing I’ll miss.”
In terms of when he plans to call it quits, he doesn’t have a specific date in mind, but “it’s coming one way or another,” he said.
“I’d like to retire but I gotta keep going until my house and everything is sold,” he said. “That’s when I’ll be able to retire. Until that happens, it ain’t happening.”
He said he’s fortunate to have a career where people thank him for his services, adding that there aren’t many jobs today where people extend their appreciation for the work that others do.
“It’s going to be kind of sad when it shuts down, unless someone comes along and wants to take it over. It’s the way it is,” he said.