PHILADELPHIA —  Customer response to the opening of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market has been strong.

Market improvements attract new customersDistributors say they’re only hearing positives from their customers about how they enjoy using a new and modern produce distribution facility.

“We are getting good reaction,” said Rick Milavsky, vice president of BRS Produce Co., who had worked on the old market since 1981.

“Everyone likes it and seems to appreciate the way the operation is organized. They tell me it’s really easy to work with. Things are going very well,” he said.

Todd Penza, salesman with Pinto Bros. Inc., said the new building is helping improve the handling of produce, especially during the severe heat warnings the city underwent during July and August.

“With the excessive heat we’ve had, it has performed outstandingly,” Penza said in late July. “This is such a better environment to bring produce into and sell.”

Penza said the new operation was constructed with everyone in mind, particularly the distributors’ customers.

He said the coolers in the older facility would have struggled with the heat.

“We have had a lot of visitors and much feedback,” Penza said. “Everyone likes this market.”

For a long time, Martin Roth, secretary-treasurer of Coosemans Philadelphia Inc., downplayed any new market move.

For years, he said he didn’t believe the distributors would ever move into the much talked about new operation in his lifetime.

“I was skeptical,” he said. “I don’t like change. Not many people really like change as they get older. But I am very pleased with this operation.”

Coosemans is seeing a small increase in business, Roth said.

“It’s hard for people to change when they’re holding onto every dime they can get,” he said. “There are a few new customers coming, but not as many as there should be. If the economy ever turns around, we expect to see more new customers.”

Temperature control remains critical for Mark Levin, co-owner of banana and tropical jobber M. Levin & Co. Inc.

“The refrigeration in this building is impeccable,” he said. “Last year at this time of the year (July), it could have been 105 degrees in the old market and you’d watch produce melt. ... You can see the life this new place has added to the produce.”

For all the talk of benefit to the customers, some wholesalers see a slight drawback for the employees and company owners who work in the building at all hours. As a refrigerated warehouse, temperatures remain consistent.

“I feel the concept is great, but there’s no reason why it’s always 50-55 degrees in here,” said Leonard Klinghoffer, partner and president of Klinghoffer Bros. Inc.

“There’s no reason we can’t regulate the temperatures better. The boxes are too cold and it’s not good for the tomatoes. You have to wear two sweaters and jackets to remain at a comfortable level,” he said.

Al Finer, president of Al Finer Co., said he wished the market could have been constructed on a site that had railroad access.

“My beef has always been the same thing,” Finer said. “We walked away from an old market with no railroad siding and ventured into a new one without a railroad siding. To me, that did not make any sense.”

Finer said the “hard” produce items such as apples, pears, plums, potatoes and onions travel well by rail, and distributors can pass on the savings gained by rail transport to their customers.

Even with the lack of rail capacity, Finer, who also runs a produce brokerage, said he likes the new place in many ways and said it possesses many advantages over its predecessor.

Customers give good reviews.

“Whoever I talk to, they like it,” said Dave Berghold, owner of Berghold Produce, Allentown.

“What’s also good is that there are no tie-ups. As busy as this place is, there’s never any congestion at the busiest times.”

Berghold said the abundance of customer parking provides another advantage compared to the older market, which saw constant congestion.