As with other U.S. metropolitan regions, the economy remains a major concern for Baltimore and Washington, D.C., distributors.

The concentration of government agencies, however, helps the region remain a little stronger and more resistant to the effects of the struggling economy, distributors say.

“With a lot of the government business and the government jobs you have here, we are sort of in a bubble and insulated,” said Gus Pappas, president of Pete Pappas & Sons Inc., Washington, D.C.

Despite enjoying the federal government’s presence, the economy did influence sales.

“The economy seems to be getting better,” Pappas said. “People are entertaining more and are eating out again.”

Pappas said sales began improving around Easter.

John Gates, president and founder of Jessup, Md.-based Lancaster Foods Inc., said the region appears to be holding strong.

“Sales are growing, and I think the economy is coming back,” he said. “We are in a pretty strong area with Washington, D.C., and the government.”

Though he described the produce economy as favorable, Tony Vitrano, president of the Tony Vitrano Co., Jessup, said the nation’s capital won’t always be so reliable.

“D.C. isn’t as immune (to the economic problems) as it once was,” Vitrano said.

Vitrano said area’s thriving ethnic minority populations help support the smaller grocery stores abundant in the region’s suburbs. He said those stores purchase more from produce market wholesalers.

Sal Cefalu, board member of Jessup-based G. Cefalu & Bro. Inc. and chief operating officer for Capital Seaboard, characterized sales as healthy.

“Produce sales are better, but I’m not sure how much the economy is better,” he said. “Maybe we’re all just getting used to having a lesser economy. People you talk to, if they have a job and are paying the bills, they won’t go home and stick their heads in the sand every day and say they’re not spending a penny.”

Foodservice distributor Keany Produce Co., Landover, Md., remains busy supplying the region’s restaurants, hotels, hospitals, caterers, universities and other institutional customers.

“The restaurants are busy,” said Kevin Keany, president. “There is a tremendous resurgence in the Baltimore and D.C. area.

“The cities are vibrant, and a strong insurgence of young professionals are moving to D.C. There are many new restaurants, and because of the government and homeland security there’s a lot of money being pumped into formerly blighted areas where there are jobs and all the subordinate companies.”

Ross Foca, president of East Coast Fresh Cuts, a division of Savage, Md.-based Coastal Sunbelt Produce Co., characterized the produce economy as solid.

“It’s up from last year,” he said. “Produce sales are doing well in this area. We see some positive trends. It’s better in this area than the national economy. Government business is still good business. People aren’t feeling the crunch as hard.”