By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

Called a casualty of the Southeastern peach freeze, an East Coast produce brokerage has closed its doors.

Riverside Fruit & Vegetable Sales Inc., Fort Pierce, Fla., ceased operations June 1. The 26-year-old buying-brokerage has been working to repay creditors and repaid 99.9% of its bills as of late June, said Lewis Graiver, Riverside's general manager and comptroller. Graiver said he plans to complete the repayment and finish the company closing by the end of July.

The produce brokerage business in late June was waiting for what Graiver characterized as a small amount of receivables and payables.

The firm has less than $25,000 remaining in debts, he said. Those creditors, who were invoiced in late May, could include produce buyers as well as other bills such as telephone service, Graiver said.

Riverside's founder, industry veteran Mark Vincent "Chick" Ciccarelli, died last summer.

"This is not where someone's going bankrupt and you take off," Graiver said. "This is a very professional and respectful way of taking care of business. We have the cash to take care of people. We decided it wasn't worth putting more money in the business, especially with the owner dead. This is the way to do it. Life goes on."

A series of surprise freezes that struck the Carolinas and Georgia April 6-9 destroyed much of the Southeast's peaches and blueberries.

The freeze, which Graiver called the worst in two decades, destroyed up to 95% of peaches grown for Monetta Peach Packers, Monetta, S.C., the main peach grower Riverside represented, he said. Riverside, which also sells Florida citrus from September through May, didn't have any other significant crop to sell during the summer, Graiver said.

Riverside sold some vegetables. Salesman John Tucci tried to build the business after Ciccarelli died, but volume wasn't enough to make up for the peach loss, Graiver said.

Ciccarelli's death and the crop freeze were two blows the business couldn't overcome, he said. Riverside couldn't last four months without a major crop to sell, Graiver said.