PHILADELPHIA — Marking their first year in the new Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, tenants report the move is bringing new customers.

Distributors also point out improved efficiencies that the move is bringing.

“This place is a showcase. It’s unbelievable,” said Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc. “It’s a pleasure to be able to work and do business here.”

Without the increased efficiencies, Wiechec said wholesalers likely wouldn’t be able to afford the place.

Better refrigeration

John Vena Jr., market board treasurer and president of John Vena Inc., said the facility’s modern produce refrigeration marks one of the biggest improvements in preserving produce.

“Efficiency levels have increased and can increase more,” Vena, the chairman of the facility’s marketing committee, said. “I think we can be a lot more efficient.

“We are already hugely more efficient than the old market. I don’t think you can overstress the importance of the cold chain here. It has made our lives so much easier.”

Todd Penza, salesman for Pinto Bros. Inc., said he doesn’t hear anyone complain anymore.

He said distributors are taking advantage of the modern facility’s improved efficiencies.

Maintaining the cold chain results in a large improvement and value for them, especially when they handled produce in such a hot summer as this summer.

“We’re able to expand our product line because of the room that we have and because of the quality of refrigeration,” Penza said. “We’re also getting more customers. We have expanded, and others have too. It’s helping us attract new customers.

“It’s the idea of working with someone that’s in a modern facility,” he said. There’s some sense of reassurance that the quality of the produce they’re buying is going to be the same standard as if they purchased from someone else with a modern facility. You didn’t have that working in a 50-year-old facility.”

Drawing card

John DiFeliciantonio, market board secretary and partner with Ryeco Inc., said distributors finished adjusting to the growing pains involved in the building’s first year.

He agrees the facility is a drawing card for more customers.

“The customers love it,” DiFeliciantonio said. “They don’t have to be here as long, it’s much easier to park, there’s so much more room for them, and the product has much greater shelf life. There’s a lot less damage. Every customer seems to be taking more product and spending less time with it.”

DiFeliciantonio said the way distributors were spread out in their stalls on the old market required customers to drive their trucks longer distances. In the new facility, customers only need to park in one place.

Rich Clark, owner of Jesse Pitt Co., said that distance often discouraged customer visits.

“They don’t have to walk as far and are enjoying it much more,” Clark said. “In a lot of ways, business is better here. The fruit holds up better. We used to panic when bananas got color because we had to sell them cheap. Now, with refrigeration we can sell them better. That’s helped extend shelf life as well.”

Jimmy Storey, president and owner of Quaker City Produce Co., said the market has strong leadership and staff that work diligently work to bring new customers to the facility.

“I see this market in the future going nowhere but forward,” Storey said. “This market is a stepping stone for a lot of other terminal markets. It was very well put together and is a state-of-the-art facility.”

Health reasons forced the longtime market board president to step down from his role in 2011.

Storey served as board president for nearly 20 years.

After a period of adjustment, distributors in the facility began operating as normal, said Tad Thompson, the market’s business development manager.

He agreed the building’s design and other features should help facilitate increased produce sales.

“We are really well-geared for the future,” Thompson said. “This is a very convenient place for customers large and small. We continue to handle a lot of different kinds of business. It was built for all kinds of customers, from chains to individual customers.”

In June, Rick Milavsky, vice president of BRS Produce Co., joined the market’s board of directors.

He said tenants and customers are enjoying the benefits of the new location.

“We are seeing a few more customers,” Milavsky said. “I am not sure how much, but we do see new people coming around. There are still people out there who will discover us and realize this is the place to shop.”

The only complaint Milavsky says he repeatedly hears is the building’s consistent 50-degree temperature.