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Another heat-related headache: High watermelon prices

Although prices have skyrocketed David Kerber holds watermelhe just purchased Jewel Food Store Roscoe   Western Tuesday August 2

Although the prices have skyrocketed, David Kerber holds a watermelon he just purchased at the Jewel Food Store at Roscoe & Western on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Picking the perfect watermelon

Updated: November 2, 2011 6:03PM

Watermelon prices have soared lately because excessive heat has damaged crops — presenting a pickle to picnic planners.

“Farmers’ yields have been reduced. I don’t remember the last time the price has gotten this high,” said John Kourvas, owner of N & G Produce Company in the West Loop.

Kourvas said 24-pound watermelons are selling for as much as $9 at many grocery stores — more than double the price customers expect to see.

“And, when it’s hot, everyone wants a watermelon. The demand goes up, the price goes up,” said Kourvas, adding that increased gas costs aren’t helping the matter.

“The heat and excessive sun has also left a bit of a suntan, a hint of beige, on many of the melons, but they still taste good,” he said.

David Kerber, 36, found watermelons selling for $5.99 at a Roscoe Village Jewel Tuesday.

“I didn’t even notice the price,” said Kerber, a real estate consultant.

“I love watermelons . . . I could sit down and eat this whole thing . . . but if the price gets to $10, I don’t think I’d pay.”

At the Strack & Van Til supermarket in Logan Square, Jeff Dygola, 51, couldn’t justify paying $7.99 for a watermelon.

“It seems ridiculous. That’s a lot of money. I’d pay $3.99 or $4.99,” he said. Dygola, a bartender from Logan Square, says he’d substitute cantaloupe or honeydew for picnics until the prices come down.

Relief for lovers of the giant green gourd may be days away.

“There’s a chance crops from neighboring states will reduce prices when they ripen and hit the market in about two weeks,” said Kourvas. “Right now most of our melons are from Florida.”

The shortage has left supermarket operators scrambling to keep customers happy.

“You don’t know how many people are fighting for the same watermelons,” said one fruit merchant who asked not to be named. “I’ve never seen prices this high for watermelons in August, and I’ve been in the produce business for decades. They should be $2.98 or $3.98 at the register. They’re still selling, but the heat sells them. Fruit is an impulse buy. If you see something you like, you take it.”

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