If anyone writes a book on the history of Chestnut Hill, Jim Ranck will have his own chapter.
If anyone writes a book on the history of Chestnut Hill, Jim Ranck will have his own chapter. Ranck's Lunchmeats, which spreads out against the back wall of the Market at the Fareway behind the Chestnut Hill Hotel, is by far the longest-tenured business in the market, and has just completed its 40th year in business. It opened the year after the market, then called the Chestnut Hill Farmers Market, which debuted in 1982.
Then owned by entrepreneur Steve Bajus, the market and adjacent Chestnut Hill Hotel were purchased in 2007 by “Uncle” Ron and Abby Pete, who still own and operate them.
“There is a reason why Jim is still successful,” Ron Pete said. “People love his food, and everybody likes him personally because he is such a nice guy. If the people who run these businesses in the market are good business people with a good product, they will do well. Jim is proof of that.”
Interestingly, Ranck asserts that his business even did well during the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, people became loyal to small businesses,” he said recently. “Also, the market was not a threat. We had good social distancing. We were only closed for a couple of weeks.
“Remember, we were considered essential,” he continued. “And we would deliver orders to people in their cars.”
When asked what was the most memorable anecdote he can recall from his four decades in business, Ranck did not hesitate.
“We had been to a Phillies game the night before a few years ago,” he said. “The Phillies were in a tie game, but their relief pitcher walked in the winning run in the ninth inning. The next day we were talking about the game with a customer and how the relief pitcher blew the game. The customer said, 'That was me. I walked in the winning run!'
“It turns out the customer was David Robertson, the Phillies pitcher, who was living in Chestnut Hill at the time! How's that for a coincidence? We had a good laugh about it. He took it really well.” (Robertson, who formerly pitched for the New York Yankees and several other teams, played for the Phillies in 2019 and again in 2022 and now pitches for the Miami Marlins.)
Ranck has had sustained business success, but his family has also had its share of tragedy. In 1991, Jim’s brother Ken, then 41, was unloading his truck early one morning at 5th Street and Fisher Avenue. in Olney, where there was a weekend food market when a 17-year-old boy approached him with a gun and demanded money. Ken was apparently too shocked or in disbelief, because he didn’t respond soon enough, and the young man proceeded to shoot him. Ken bled to death in the street.
Although he was a teenager at the time, the killer was tried as an adult, convicted, and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He was sent to Graterford Prison.
However, since the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that a sentence of life without parole for a minor is unconstitutional, all inmates in the country serving life sentences who had committed their crimes before the age of 18 were given new hearings. Thus, in 2017, a court decided that Howard had been punished enough. He was released from prison after serving 26 years.
“As far as we know,” Ranck said last week, “he has kept his nose clean. He had a job lined up. My family and I forgave him a long time ago. I read a letter to that effect at the re-sentencing. He got up and apologized. My brother's life was sacrificed for the killer to re-establish his life.”
Jim Ranck attended Cedar Grove Academy, a small private school in Northeast Philadelphia, and Lancaster Mennonite High School. His parents were farmers from Lancaster County. He currently lives in Southampton, Lower Bucks County, with his wife, Carol, a nurse. They have three daughters – Jillian, 29, a speech therapist; Jennifer, 31, a nurse; and Jacqueline, 38, a special education teacher.
Ranck, 63, and his team make their food products in-house every morning.
“That way we have complete control,” he said. “We use no additives or preservatives. We make our own pasta salad, potato salad, egg salad, crab cakes, roast beef, roast pork and turkey breast.”
What is the biggest change in the Chestnut Hill business community since he opened his doors 40 years ago?
“Back then, there were so many small owner-operated, family-owned shops on the Avenue,” he said. “There were lots of housekeepers, butlers, and chauffeurs working for wealthy families in the big houses. They would come to the market and shop for their employers. That is no more.”
For more information, call 215-247-5557. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.