MONTREAL — It appears that Montreal may be getting a new central market at last.
“We would like to have an agreement by the end of the year at the latest,” said Andre Plante, director of the Quebec Produce Growers Association.
While QPGA owns the Marche Central’s 800,000 square feet of space, it leases the land from the British Columbia developer that owns the shopping center next door.
If growers and wholesalers agree to move, the developer has agreed to rebuild the market on industrial land nine miles east, now a golf course beside the Metropolitan Boulevard.
By mid-October, Plante had letters of intent from three major Montreal wholesalers who now operate outside the market and are interested in building on the potential two million square feet of new land.
“On the financial side, we are close to an agreement,” Plante said, “but we have to confirm that the wholesalers are coming for sure. Having Courchesne Larose, Laverdure and Premier Fruits and Vegetables ready to join us encourages us to push forward with the move.”
Guy Milette, vice president of international and business development for importer and wholesaler Courchesne Larose, said the idea appeals because the company has long outgrown its present location outside the market.
“We’ve been talking about a new location for years,” Milette said, “and we’re in negotiations to be part of a new market.”
Jean-Francois Laverdure, president of fruit and vegetable importer JB Laverdure, said a new market would be good for the city’s image and good for business, but the move would only be worth it if 80% of the wholesalers move.
“Having two guys, like we have now, won’t make a market,” he said. “Now, customers can play us with their cell phones and everything’s about price,” he said. “If you’re on the market, everyone else knows what you’re competing against and what you have on your floor. Better stuff would be sold at a better price.”
Canadawide, the city’s largest wholesaler, still holds a lease directly with the developer.
President George Pitsikoulis said he’s had some discussions but remains neutral about a move.
One large wholesaler and importer who has no intention of moving is Chenail Fruits and Vegetables.
“I don’t think having a market for a few wholesalers is a good idea,” said partner Tony Bono, adding that even two million square feet of space will not be enough to accommodate everyone.
“We have a building that’s paid off, and to start all over with a big mortgage is not appealing,” Bono said. “We also think we have the best location, at the corner of L’Acadie and Metropolitan,” he said. “It’s the center of the industry … all the trucks that come to Montreal pass by here. Trucks from Toronto, Quebec City or the north would have a lot further to go if we move to the east end.”
Frank Ferrarelli, general manager for Essex Continental, which rents space in the current market, is excited about the idea.
“We’ve finally been given budgets and plans,” he said. “Now it’s up to each individual to decide what he’ll do.”
As for the location, “It’s good as long as everyone is in one place,” Ferrarelli said. “If we’re all over the city, then no location is good. Everyone has to look to the next 10 to 15 years.”
Gaetan Bono, owner of Gaetan Bono Fruits and Vegetables, who also rents space in the current market, said he could live with the move.
Plante envisions the $50 million project as being as exceptional as the Chicago market, which impressed him with its cleanliness and classy look.
“Any new market would have to meet the toughest food safety standards,” he said. “We wouldn’t have a choice.”
While some wholesalers may be interested, the potential move worries the more than 100 Quebec growers who sell $20 million worth of produce outdoors in season at the current Place des Producteurs.
“The farmers are worried about moving to Montreal’s east end because the public and the small fruit and vegetable markets they cater to are all in the west end,” Plante said. “They would also need to work in an enclosed space and install refrigeration.”
In spite of the challenges, Plante remains optimistic that a solution will be found to satisfy everyone.
“It’s a dream having everybody in the same location,” he said. “It would give us a one-stop shop.”