Wholesalers moving into Philadelphia’s new produce terminal hope the modern facilities will help them attract new business.
The aging facility on Packer Avenue and S. Galloway Street was outdated and costing distributors too much money to maintain, distributors said. When they began their search for a new location in 2002, they said they wanted a new operation with modern produce handling capabilities to keep them competitive with other distributors.
“We will have the opportunity to go after customers we didn’t have that we weren’t able to satisfy from this older facility,” said John Vena Jr., market board member and president of John Vena Inc. “All of us are going to be targeting retail and foodservice customers from the bottom to the top of the industry. There isn’t any customer we wouldn’t want to invite into our facility to see what we have and how we can do it.”
Vena, chairman of the facility’s marketing committee, said the new building was also constructed to provide a lively atmosphere for the trading of fresh produce.
Frank Stea Jr., vice president of Stea Bros. Produce Inc., looked back at the years of struggle it took to move the distributors from their aging operations.
“It took nine years,” he said. “We had a site, the Pasha location, then moved to the Navy Yard. Now, we’re in a refinery area. However, we are anxious and curious.”
Martin Roth, secretary-treasurer of Coosemans Philadelphia Inc., was formerly a longtime cynic who often expressed skepticism that a new building would ever be constructed.
He long cited all the indecision and uncertainty that led to the market’s construction.
Roth, however, has changed his mind and said seeing is believing.
“No one likes change, especially the older you get,’ Roth said. “But, we need this change for the next generation. It’s nice to have all this done and be through with all the aggravation, all the rumors and all the indecision. That’s all done, thankfully.”
Roth said he was taken by reaction from Coosemans customers visiting the new facility.
“As customers visit this market, they are looking forward to it opening,” he said. “They are beginning to see that it will work for their benefit.”
Roth cited the building’s many upgrades, which include modern refrigeration and temperature control and other food safety controls.
“It’s so state of the art,” Roth said. “It will be a wonderful time for anyone working in the produce industry. It’s a big, beautiful facility that you just have to see to believe. Pictures don’t do it justice.”
As wholesalers will have more room to service their customers, Todd Penza, salesman for Pinto Bros. Inc., said the new operation should transform produce sales.
“There will be more room to bring in products,” Penza said. “We are optimistic the new layout will improve the way our business is run.”
While construction was nearing completion, Penza said many customers visited the operation during orientation days. He said the wholesalers received strong feedback from their customers who toured the plant.
“From the smallest corner deli store owner to the largest customers, they all share that same excitement,” Penza said.
Penza said wholesalers plan to take advantage of their new facility’s uniqueness.
Though some wholesalers complained about higher rents, Rich Clark, owner of Jesse Pitt Co., said increasing rent at the old market to fund new cooler construction in 1992 actually helped sales.
“Everyone complained about the high cost of rent then, as rent tripled,” Clark said. “It turned out to be the best thing we ever did. People will say this about the new market. They won’t complain. In time, they will say they need more space but they’ll be happy.”