John Dixon, proprietor of Tri-County Produce since 1985, has broadened the ownership of the 1.35 acres the 46-year-old market sits on and added a trio of real-estate investors who paid $9.7 million, he confirmed on Tuesday. In an official statement, Dixon said he’d added partners “to help me figure out what is the next best step,” adding that “I have not sold the Tri-County Produce business.” 

The displays of greens at Tri-County Produce have always made you want to eat your vegetables, they look so fresh and enticing — especially housed in an open-air warehouse washed with breezes from the beach a block away. News of the sale had ripple effects across the community as Dixon, and his father, Jim, before him, are well-known for their philanthropy to the Foodbank and other nonprofits with events on Milpas or along the beachfront in Santa Barbara.

At age 61, Dixon said he was considering retirement in the next 10 years from the business he and his father acquired in 1985. As he consulted with financial planners and real estate experts, “An important thing I have learned is that selling our real estate without a plan for Tri-County Produce makes no sense — and neither does selling a business without selling the property.”

Dixon’s new partners are Austin Herlihy and Chris Parker of Radius Commercial Real Estate and Steve Leonard, the “godfather” of Pacifica Capital Investments. Herlihy, asked for comment, said the project was John Dixon’s legacy and wanted to give him his moment. “I can say that we are excited to begin this partnership with John Dixon and his thoughtful vision to continue the legacy of Tri-County Produce.”

Dixon recognized that the land could be considered “infill” property and could provide “needed real estate resources” for the city, including residential. He, his partners, and possibly other investors would be engaged in long-term planning, and “I am looking into ways to someday transfer the Tri-County business, potentially to the staff,” Dixon wrote in an email. All things considered, the only thing he promised was that the produce market would continue for many years as it has before.

“The staff and our loyal customers are really my priority in determining the best future for Tri-County Produce,” John Dixon said. In fact, his longest tenured employee will celebrate his 100th birthday at the grocers on November 27. Roke Fukumura was best friends with John’s father, Jim Dixon, who died in 2016. Before buying Tri-County with his son, Jim had brought Fukumura into Jordano’s, where he’d been the head produce buyer, then to Tri-County when Fukumura retired in 1991. This year is Fukumura’s 32nd at the market on Milpas Street, where he still puts in five days a week. “I hope you can join us in that beautiful monumental event,” John Dixon said.

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