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James Produce Company


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The C. H. James family founded the James Produce Company and built it into one of the state’s most successful minority businesses. The business began in 1883 when Charles H. James and his brothers started as backpack peddlers serving the coalfields of southern West Virginia. Their father was Francis James, a free black from Ohio, who established the family in West Virginia at the end of the Civil War. The business prospered, wagons were purchased, and warehouses in Charleston were acquired. Cash was scarce, so much business was done through barter, with customers trading eggs, chickens, or produce for merchandise.

When E. L. James, Charles’s son, took over, he converted the operation from retail to wholesale. The 1929 stock market crash forced the company into bankruptcy, and it was E. L. who built a new business. After his death in 1967, his son, Charles II, worked to modernize the business with computers and refrigerated trucks. In 1973, he secured financing that allowed the company to double its storage capacity.

Charles James III joined the business in 1985 and within three years had bought the company from his father. He arranged certification as a minority contractor to the federal government, adding millions to gross sales. At its peak, C. H. James & Co. generated approximately $30 million in annual sales. In 1992, Charles III moved the business to California, and in 1999 he sold it to pursue other business ventures in the food service area.

Written by Betty L. MacQueen