Detroit Produce Terminal still plays major role in market

11/15/2012 04:39:00 PM
Jim Offner

Produce terminal markets, even old ones, still work, according to wholesalers who do business on the Detroit Produce Terminal.

The facility at 7201 W. Fort St. has been ground zero for the produce business in Detroit since 1928.

Times have changed, according to the nine produce dealers who share the terminal today. Decades ago, there were more than 40 wholesalers, often focusing on their own niches.

The market has evolved by necessity, said Nate Stone, chief operating officer of wholesaler, Ben B. Schwartz & Sons Inc., which operates on the market.

“I think anybody that’s operating the same way they operated 30 or 40 years ago is limiting their future,” he said.

“We found the best thing to do was to change with it and, where we could, be in front of it,” he said.

The fundamentals — “taking care of customers” — haven’t changed, though, said Dominic Russo, a buyer, salesman and manager with Rocky’s Produce, another terminal occupant.

“We just go out of our way to do whatever we can, and as their needs change, we support them every way we can,” he said.

Some of the details have evolved, such as electronic buying and ordering, but the basics endure, Russo said.

The market is as vital as ever to Detroit’s produce business, said Dominic Riggio, president of Riggio Distribution Co., a longtime occupant of the market, which until this year was known as Aunt Mid’s.

But the role of the market has evolved, he said.

“I think you could probably answer that on a customer-by-customer basis,” he said. “Our function for our customer definitely has changed.”

Riggio said his company helps customers more than ever in sales planning and their speculating, as well as their seasonal changeovers, “when they’re changing from the soft fruit to the fall harvest and so forth.”

The market remains a strong resource for Detroit’s independent retailers as well, Riggio said.

Vendors on the market once specialized in certain items or services.

That’s no longer the case, said Michael Badalament, a salesman with R.A.M. Produce Distributors, which also is located on the terminal market.

“We all bring in a litany of different products,” Badalament said.

Each company nevertheless maintains its own expertise and focus, Badalament said.

“Some houses specialize in grapes and do a great job. We’re known for our tomatoes and our veg,” he said.

Detroit’s array of ethnic groups keeps the market humming, Badalament said.

“In fact, with our produce, since we have a very big Arab population, we’re getting Arab stores coming from New York and Ohio and Illinois,” he said.

The independent retailers are a major component in the life of the market, said Jeff Abrash, owner of Andrews Bros. Inc., who also has served as market president.

“The independent retailers are still one of the main vehicles of how produce gets sold in the Detroit area,” Abrash said.



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