Philadelphia produce wholesalers more than ready to relocate - The Packer

Philadelphia produce wholesalers more than ready to relocate

05/27/2011 10:30:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

PHILADELPHIA — The long awaited move into better facilities has finally come for produce distributors in the City of Brotherly Love.

“We have waited a long time for this,” said Mark Levin, co-owner of M Levin & Co Inc., which has operations on and off the market. “It’s finally coming to fruition.”

Levin said distributors feel upbeat about the facility and say the move is long overdue.

“For the longest time, it was ‘hurry up and wait’,” he said. “Now, it’s ‘hurry up and hurry up!’” he said, referring to the moving process that began in late March.

The 105-year-old banana wholesaler plans to remain at its headquarters which is directly south of the old market. The company, however, which has been rated as one of the top five U.S. general market banana wholesalers and nonimporting banana jobbers, plans to rehabilitate its older operations. Levin’s new market facilities include a half dozen state-of-the-art banana ripening rooms.

Gary Klinghoffer, owner of GK Produce Inc., agreed that the new premises would be remarkable.

“It’s a bright new world and a bright new facility,” he said. “It will be a whole new world that is so awesome.”

Chip Wiechec, owner and president of Hunter Bros. Inc., said the new operation provides wholesalers new tools to sell produce.

He related how a representative with a major Northwest tree fruit shipper commented to him how impressed she was with the facility.

“She told me it was the finest produce market she had seen anywhere, which is a nice confirmation,” Wiechec said. “She had seen others around the world, but it’s good to know we have not only the newest, but the best as well.”

Martin Roth, secretary-treasurer of Coosemans Philadelphia Inc., said the many visitors Coosemans plays host to tell him the building was so much more than what they expected.

“When the customers come and see it, and see how it’s so state of the art, they savor the magnificence of the building,” Roth said. “They’re impressed how customer-friendly it really is.

“The only way to truly explore how beautiful the facility is is to walk through it. Words do not do it justice because it’s such an advantage for the produce business.”

Roth entered produce working with his father, Al Roth, during the late 1960s in New York. He helped his father relocate the company his father owned, Kornblum, from the city’s older market facilities in what would later become Manhattan’s World Trade Center area to the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx.

Many distributors say their larger stalls should allow them to handle more produce and sell to new customers.

While Pete Storey, salesman for Quaker City Produce Co., said he agreed the new building should foster more sales, he said Quaker City plans to remain conservative and evaluate its customers’ buying appetites before it invests in a large product line expansion.

“The economy is still a big issue with a lot of people,” Storey said. “A lot of these chains are doing that well.”

Storey said the new operation will have obvious advantages.

“We will be the best wholesale refrigerator in the country,” he said. “We will have the freshest produce in the world because we won’t be breaking that cold chain. Everyone is so very excited. (Waiting for the new market to open) is like having the keys to a brand-new car without being able to drive it — having that red Mustang in your driveway but you can’t touch it yet.”

Quaker City is known for its berries and western vegetables.

The market came about through a public and private partnership, one involving the builder, Brian O’Neill, founder and chairman of O’Neill Properties, King of Prussia, Pa., who during the March 25 ribbon-cutting ceremonies took delight in showing off through tours of the operation the facility he built.

O’Neill cited Sonny DiCrecchio, the market’s executive director, as being the key individual whose determination kept the dream of a new market going throughout the ordeal when government officials, environmentalists and others blocked site selection.

“Sonny drove this thing,” O’Neill said. “We couldn’t have done it without him.”

Building the operation didn’t come without some scrapes, however. O’Neill said the individuals such as DiCrecchio, who doggedly worked to build the facility, engaged in frequent shouting matches and scream fests.

DiCrecchio admitted it sometimes takes some aggressive action to get things done, particularly in meetings with lawyers or other governmental agency staffers.

“We did fight a lot,” DiCrecchio acknowledged. “I have had some ups and downs with this project. I have had a lot of downs.”



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