PHILADELPHIA — The long-awaited move to better facilities remains the focus of discussion for wholesalers on the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market.

Philadelphia economy called strong as market readies for move

Doug Ohlemeier

Workers are completing construction of the new Philadelphia Regional Produce Market.
Market wholesalers say they are eager to move out of their decrepit market and into a modern, state of the art all refrigerated operation that provides for better produce storage and handling.

When the move is completed, wholesalers will be receiving and selling product in a facility many say will serve as a model for other city produce terminal markets.

The new operation will have a new name as well: the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.

Though the move was originally scheduled to start by summer and then moved to late October or early November, market officials in late August say they don’t expect the relocation of market operations to occur until early January.

As the buildings at the present facility at 3301 S. Calloway continue to crumble, distributors are preparing for the move, said Jimmy Storey, terminal market association president and president and owner of Quaker City Produce Co.

“It would be a good thing to get out of here, in this market that’s falling apart bad, so we can better serve our customers and give them a better facility,” he said. “This will take them out of the position of where they break the cold chain.”

Though looking forward to the move, distributors express concerns over its cost.

“We are very worried about the expense,” said John Waleski, president and owner of John Waleski Produce Co. Inc. “You’re not going to get a whole lot more for the product. Unless we get new business, there’s no way anyone can triple their expenses.”

Add Jack Collotti Jr., vice president of Collotti & Sons Produce Inc., to the list of those who are worried.

“This place is antiquated, so the new one will be better,” he said. “Our (only) concern is the higher cost.”

However, despite a sluggish economy, many distributors say they are not seeing disappointing sales.

“The produce business has been good,” said Todd Penza, salesman for Pinto Bros. Inc. “We haven’t seen a slowdown in our business at all. The restaurant people have been complaining their business has been bad, but we don’t hear too much of that on the retail side.”

Penza and other wholesalers say the general economic slowdown prompts them to only work harder and work to better serve their customers.

Mike Maxwell, president of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., said Philadelphia remains strong.

“The city is doing well,” he said. “The whole atmosphere of the city is upbeat. If you visit a city where lots of things are happening, there’s a euphoria that attracts people.”

Philadelphia economy called strong as market readies for move

Doug Ohlemeier

Rick Milavsky, vice president of BRS Produce Co., in front of his produce display on the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market.

Though Richard Nardella, chief executive and financial officer of Nardella Inc., admits he hast been affected by the economic slowdown, he said business has remained strong.

“Because of the economy, most of our customers have had a little downswing,” Nardella said. “Restaurants are feeling it the worst. Retailers are slightly down, but for the most part their business is staying steady. Business is good. Everyone is hoping the economy will bounce back, and I am excited about the future.”

Rick Milavsky, vice president of BRS Produce Co., also characterizes sales as consistent despite the downturn in the economy,

“Everyone has been struggling,” he said. “You hear it from all of your customers. All the customers, the little people and the big ones, you see them paying a little slower. They all say they’re just paying their bills but are happy to be working. If you want to work, you just hang in there. Eventually, it will level out.”

Sales have been positive for distributors outside of the metropolitan area of Philadelphia, such as Four Seasons Produce Inc., Ephrata.

“From what I can tell and the communication we get from customers, it’s a better year this year on the East Coast,” said Ron Carkoski, president and chief executive officer. “For the most part, they are seeing things stronger, better and there’s kind of a resurrection coming back to the business. It’s not back to what they would consider strong, but it has what I would call a fragile strength — a strength that wasn’t there at the end of last year.”

Carkoski said demand appears to be stronger and that he can see customers getting back into ordering.

He said Four Seasons’ customers seem to possess a more positive attitude on spending.

Four Seasons focuses on distributing produce to retailers and wholesalers.