(Oct. 8) ST. LOUIS — Business on the St. Louis Produce Market remained relatively brisk even though a strike had drastically cut traffic in the city’s three major retail grocery chains.
St. Louis-area Schnuck Markets, Dierbergs Markets and Shop ‘N Save stores had cut operating hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the wake of a strike by their employee members of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655 in early October.
Union employees at 55 Schnuck, 19 Dierbergs and 21 Shop ‘N Save stores went on strike against the chains Oct. 6. The strike affected only St. Louis-area stores in Missouri.
It was business as usual in metro-area stores across the Mississippi River in Illinois.
Nevertheless, produce wholesalers and distributors said that they were feeling the impact of the walkout.
“As we do business with some of the chain stores, they’re not buying, so our business is down,” said Charlie Gallagher Sr., president of United Fruit & Produce Co. Inc., one of the largest wholesale distributors on the terminal market. “So we’re hunkering down and hoping it will be over soon.”
Gallagher and other wholesalers on the market said that there had been an increasing presence of smaller-scale, independent retailers.
“Obviously, our business has picked up in other areas — not enough to offset what we’re losing if business were moving in a normal fashion,” Gallagher said. “But, yeah, there has been some. Fruit-stand operators have picked up a little action down here. Some of the few independent stores are doing some business.”
Few offered to predict how long the strike would last.
Robert Kelley, president of Local 655, said that the union was ready to return to negotiations. He called the strike a last resort for members who had been trying to negotiate a new deal for six months.
Some produce vendors — particularly those that deal primarily with foodservice customers — have felt little effect from the strike.
“We might pick up some business,” said Erin Casey, a sales assistant with Sunfarm Food Service, a foodservice wholesaler on the produce terminal. “Some of the smaller grocery stores would pick up some business that usually goes to Schnuck’s or Dierbergs.”