The St. Louis Produce Market, which has been operating on the near north side of downtown since the early 1950s, has lost a couple of tenants in recent years, but vacancies don't last long, said Sean Kelley, the terminal market's manager.

He said the market is as healthy as ever.

"I think business is good this year," he said.

How good is difficult to quantify, he said, other than the byproducts of busy vendors that he sees daily.

The appearance of new grocery chains in the area has helped to generate more business on the market, Kelley said.

"We have multiple owners picking up business that way," he said. "I'd say there are three or four new chains, and I would imagine that these (vendors) are making connections and pinpointing how they can serve these guys better locally."

Meanwhile, Kelley said the market is working harder to recycle.

"We've embarked on some recycling over the last couple of years that we haven't done before," he said. "One of the larger companies and us are doing some organic recycling; we're doing some cardboard and plastic recycling. We're working with a local guy to help us get set up on that."

The market is at capacity, with the exception of space longtime vendor Ole Tyme Produce vacated in late August when it opened a new complex in St. Charles, Mo.

The six units Ole Thyme had occupied likely will be available; how long, Kelley said he couldn't guess.

"I know she (owner Joan Daleo) has had some people through there; nothing's bit yet, but she keeps her property and space clean," Kelley said. "She has all the certifications. She takes pride in keeping her property perfect."

A few years ago, Sunfarm Foodservice, another wholesaler of long tenure on the market, moved to its own quarters a couple of blocks away.

However, neither Sunfarm's move nor Ole Tyme's signals a trend of vendors leaving the market, Kelley said.

"The one thing about the market is they all want to stay here because they do business among themselves," he said of the remaining 18 produce sellers on the market.

Sunfarm had occupied two units and needed to grow, and the market couldn't accommodate the company's needs at that time, Kelley said.

"We tried to move people around for Sunfarm, (but) they were out of space and we couldn't put anything together for them."

The terminal market has survived over the decades by adapting to the requirements of its vendors, each of whom owns the space they occupy, Kelley said.

"We have a few very large tenants that have kind of swallowed up some of the guys that have left, but the ones we have left are solid, and we feel they'll be here," he said.

The market has plenty of life left, Kelley said.

"I think, as far as the property itself, we're trying to improve things, offer some more services to our owners," he said.

There even could be some expansion in coming years, Kelley said.

"We do have 10 acres on the back side, and there might be the possibility of building on the north side of the property," he said.

Vendors said the market is healthy.

"Things have stayed fairly stable over the last five years," said Dominic Greene, vice president of operations and sales manager with United Food and Produce Co. Inc., which occupies about two-thirds of the market's 98 units. "I think there's a lot of cooperation on the market."

Maintenance is not a problem, said Dale Vaccaro, president and owner of Vaccaro & Sons Produce Co.

"They're upgrading all the time - new asphalt, new dock doors," he said. "We're just trying to pick and choose what's important, but overall, the market's in very good shape."

 
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