PHILADELPHIA — The journey to a new produce terminal has been long and difficult for the city’s distributors.

Move to market a long and frustrating path for Philadelphia produce distributors

Doug Ohlemeier

The new market being built for Philadelphia produce distributors features many modern innovations. Distributors say they can’t wait to exit their antiquated operations at the current produce terminal on the city’s south side.

Numerous other locations had been choosen by wholesalers on the terminal market but each time before government officials or entities stopped the process. This time those parties have signed off.

However, in early August, the building contractor told the market’s board that they are behind on finishing the building and on installing refrigeration units.

The delay means the move-in date would be postponed from late October and early November until the start of 2011.

Once refrigeration was completed, the contractors said it would take two months to make sure the equipment is working properly, said Jimmy Storey, terminal association president and president and owner of Quaker City Produce Co.

As the process began in 2003, few expressed worry about the delay.

“That’s all it is, another month,” said Martin Roth, secretary-treasurer of Coosemans Philadelphia Inc. “If the building was finished, we’d still have to test it. It’s not like you’re moving into a home. You have to test all the refrigeration and make sure everything is up and running properly.”

When it finally opens, it will be called the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. Storey said the industry would be impressed.

“It will blow your mind, how humongous it is,” he said.

Mark Levin, co-owner of M. Levin & Co. Inc., who plans to increase the number of his units from two units on the current market to four in the new building, said no one wanted to move close to the holiday pull because moving would have disrupted business.

“Trying to move and do our business during Thanksgiving and Christmas, our busiest times of the year, wouldn’t make for a practical situation,” he said.

Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. plans to have three store spaces in the new operation.

It has five stalls in the older market.

The new market stalls, however, are much larger and more efficient, said Mike Maxwell, president.

“This will be very much a showpiece of a market,” he said. “Sonny DiCrecchio (market manager) has done quite a job designing it and getting it under way. It took all kinds of moves to get it to where we are now. It started so many years ago and now we are finally there. It’s very exciting for all of us.”

Because of its constant 50 degree interior temperature and enclosed facility that will maintain the cold chain, Maxwell said the new market will do more to attract interest from local retail chain buyers who currently source produce outside of the terminal market.

Move to market a long and frustrating path for Philadelphia produce distributors

Doug Ohlemeier

Problems with receiving and distributing produce become readily apparent at the current Philadelphia Regional Produce Market in south Philadelphia.
The parking lot becomes congested with trucks and local retail and foodservice customers.

Richard Nardella, chief executive and financial officer of Nardella Inc., said wholesalers are enthusiastic about the upcoming move.

“Everyone in the market is pretty excited about it,” he said. “It should draw a lot of new customers, we are hoping. We definitely need a new facility, as this one is really starting to break apart. The new building will be very customer-friendly and better for us.”

With all operations refrigerated, the facility will be “the first of its kind in the world,” Nardella said.

Though many smaller customers don’t have refrigerated trucks, Nardella said about 90% of those that buy from the market transport their produce in refrigeration.

Nardella and Storey in 2003 began the long process of searching for a new terminal market.

“Everyone who has worked on the board has put in quite a bit of effort, including (market manager) Sonny DiCrecchio,” Nardella said. “This will cost us a lot more money, but it has worked out well.”

Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc., said repair costs to wholesalers’ forklifts continue to mount.

He said Hunter Bros. is paying $1,200 a month to fix the forklifts that sustain heavy damaged after riding over diamond plates and holes in concrete, tasks the equipment wasn’t designed to handle.

“It’s easy to get mad at our guys for not treating our equipment right, but the infrastructure here is so dilapidated, damage is unavoidable,” Wiechec said. “We are looking for those savings we will get in the whole move, by being able to maintain the cold chain and doing things a lot better and more efficiently. That should also mean a lot less shrink.”

The improvements, Wiechec said, should also save money, help wholesalers pay faster, provide them and their customers better product that has been handled more efficiently and allow distributors to do more marketing.

John Vena Jr., president of John Vena Inc., said distributors during the summer were preparing for the move.

As a part of its strategic plan for moving to the new facility, the specialties purveyor hired two people to help with the move.

“We will have an increased overhead burden when we move,” Vena said. “The cost of our physical premises will be considerably higher than what we have here (in the older market). That will require an increase in our top line. We need to strengthen the foundation of our business.”

He said everyone he talks to is excited about the move and awaits the many opportunities the market should provide.

The market’s customers, Vena said, have many questions the wholesalers don’t know how to answer yet.

Those questions include how things will work at the new operation, how will they back into the stalls, how the wholesalers will serve them and how the market’s operations will be updated and adjusted to better handle its customers in the new facility.