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Delivering milk the old-fashioned way in Burlco

Search the term milkman on Google, and a San Diego mash-up artist appears as the first hit. ("Milkman" plays "electro-hip/hop fusion" music and operates his own lasers.)

Kevin Decker carries a crate of goods to a house in Mount Laurel. His mother, Christie Arleo, startedthe business with an eye to passing it along to him eventually.
Kevin Decker carries a crate of goods to a house in Mount Laurel. His mother, Christie Arleo, startedthe business with an eye to passing it along to him eventually.Read moreCLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

Search the term milkman on Google, and a San Diego mash-up artist appears as the first hit. ("Milkman" plays "electro-hip/hop fusion" music and operates his own lasers.)

Kevin Decker, 20, of Voorhees, is the right age to be a Milkman fan, but he's never heard of him.

Decker is instead the real thing, something few of the electro-hip/hop generation have ever seen.

He is a door-to-door milkman.

"I always wear the white shirt," he said last week as he started his afternoon delivery run through Mount Laurel and Marlton.

He was wearing white pants, too. "It's part of the look," he said as he headed for Country Lane in Mount Laurel.

Decker is the sole driver for "Fitzy the Milkman," a dairy delivery business launched weeks ago by former longtime Marlton resident Christie Arleo. At 55, she is old enough to remember milkmen delivering milk, butter, cottage cheese, and orange juice twice a week to the door of her childhood home on Long Island.

Arleo also remembers many a vexing day as the single mother of two small boys, "zipping them into coats and strapping them into car seats just so we could drive to the supermarket to buy a gallon of milk."

Kevin Decker was the younger of those boys.

And though he doesn't remember those late-night milk runs, he is banking that his mother's idea for a small business will not just thrive, but be his to run in a few years.

"I enjoy seeing it grow," Decker said as he turned onto Huntington Way in Mount Laurel. "It's something I'll do full time this summer, and we'll see how it goes."

He studied criminology and then physical therapy for a while at Burlington County College, but a snowboarding accident last year that broke his knee in four places took him out of school. He plans to study business when he returns.

"Fitzy's" - short for Fitzgerald, Arleo's maiden name - got a license from Burlington County's Board of Health two months ago to deliver dairy and food products, and a license from Camden County just last week.

In the 200 block of Huntington Way, Decker parked his white van, which bears a logo of a young, white-clad milkman carrying three milk bottles. He checked his order sheet, then rummaged through two big coolers.

At the first house, he placed a gallon of 1 percent milk in a cooler by the front door, retrieved a check for $3.79, dumped a quart of ice around the milk, and closed the lid.

Across the street, he rang the bell at the home of Debbie Ulrich, who answered the door.

"Do you want me to put it in the refrigerator?" he asked. Ulrich, recovering from a knee replacement, said yes, and he headed for the kitchen.

"I've known his family since before he was born," said Ulrich, 59, an art psychotherapist, who remembered having milkmen - "I think it was Borden's" - growing up in Chicago.

Gesturing to the long vertical scar on her right knee, she said she was on pain medicine and in physical therapy and "it hurts just getting into the car."

But the convenience of home delivery is not all she likes about Fitzy's, said Ulrich, who paid $14.82 for a gallon of skim milk, a pound of butter, and six tubs of Greek yogurt, including a $3 delivery fee. "It's fresher than what I get at the stores," she said, "and the prices are competitive."

With just 20 customers to date, Fitzy's has no expectation of breaking even anytime soon, Arleo said in an earlier interview.

"We don't have any target" number of customers, she said, and she's still figuring out the product line. "That's the great thing about a small business. You can bend and curve to meet customer demand."

She gave up living in Marlton last year when she married lawyer Robert Arleo (they remet at their high school reunion) and moved to his home in New York's Hudson Valley.

The move also meant giving up the corporate relocation business she ran out of Marlton for two decades. "But I couldn't sit still," she said.

So when her husband urged her to start a new business, "I thought of Dairy Barn," a chain of drive-through dairy stores she knew growing up on Long Island.

But starting a franchise in South Jersey that her son could take over would have taken two years and cost more than $500,000, so she decided on home delivery instead.

The company takes orders by phone and online, and its driver (for now, just her son) retrieves the products from Balford Farms, a dairy distributor in Burlington Township. Fitzy's product line also includes Turkey Hill, Tropicana, Swiss Maid, and Horizon, an organic dairy.

After another stop on Huntington Way, Decker drove 13 miles to a house on Pendleton Court in Marlton. There he placed a dozen eggs ($2.99) into a cooler by the front door, then set a gallon of skim milk ($3.75) on top.

He paused, replaced the eggs on the top, and poured in the ice.

"One more. Marlton Lakes," he said when he returned to the van.

It was to a first-time customer, 10 miles away, and so Decker awoke the GPS function on his iPhone for the first time. After several false directions that tried to steer him into woods, his GPS directed him onto Sandwood Drive and the brick home of Christine Wahl, a retired tax assessor.

"You look just like the man on the truck," she joked when she opened the door.

"Oh, darn," she said when she learned he had not gotten her late addition of chocolate milk, but she was delighted with her two half-gallons of organic milk and quart of half-and-half bearing expiration dates 31/2 weeks off.

"I like small companies, and I can't stand going to the grocery store," Wahl, 61, said. "I think delivery services are great." She had seen an ad for Fitzy's in a weekly newspaper and placed her order online.

Milkmen were a familiar sight at her childhood home in Runnemede, she said. "The milk was Foremost. And about once a month, my father would get a case of Kohlberger beer delivered."

The Barrington Soda Co. also made home deliveries.

"It made sense," she said. "People nowadays don't know how to calculate costs, but when they put the key in the car, it costs them. Time is money."