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JESSUP, MD — Fruit and vegetable sales are good for distributors on and near the Maryland Wholesale Produce Center, here, according to several operators.

T.J. Rahll, office manager at Edward G. Rahll & Sons Inc. on the market, described business as "steady, not great." He added, “It is about on par with the economy. There has been a definite decline the last couple of years, but we're still kicking. I think the biggest part is that foodservice is hurting. The ma and pa restaurants are the thing of the past. Those are really struggling.” Mr. Rahll said that street sales on the Jessup market have been “very random all summer.”

Tony Vitrano, chief financial officer of the Tony Vitrano Co. on the market, said that the presence of “a few more ethnic companies, who have taken the place of the old guys,” has been a positive for the market. Several of these are “Asian and Hispanic companies that are fitting in quite well. That doesn’t change our operations too much, but it is good for the market. Their customers come to market and while they are here, they see everybody. It’s good for the market. Having the market full is a good thing.”

Jerrold Chadwick, vice president of marketing and business development for Lancaster Foods LLC, which operates a huge facility adjacent to the Jessup terminal, said that Baltimore-Washington is served by “dynamic” supermarkets, including Giant of Maryland LLC in Landover, MD, which “really made a turnaround in the last two or three years. They are doing much better.”

The strong retailers match a very strong local economy, Mr. Chadwick said. The wealth related to the federal government gives the area “an insulating effect” from negative economic events and provides “huge employment,” he said.

Federal employees don’t face a downturn with unemployment, and all economic indicators, such as unemployment, income and foreclosure rates, point to the strength of the local economy, Mr. Chadwick said. “It is better than the United States’ economy and better for us suppliers. The [average] local income is still up. It is all driven by the federal government. The fundamentals of our economy are sound.”

The 30-year-old Mr. Rahll added, “The future is promising. There is still a ton of business out there. The bigger companies rely on smaller guys like us to fill in shorts. That said, there is always a place for us.” Rahll & Sons works from 12 units on the Jessup market.

Regarding discussion of eventually enclosing the Jessup market’s docks, Mr. Vitrano said, “That is certainly in the long-range plan, but it is not scheduled yet. It is just in the talking stages. They haven’t really come up with the proper design. We have a wide range [of] customers who need to load tractor- trailers or pickups.” Having a dock to accommodate all types of customer vehicles is difficult, he underscored. Thus, improvement plans are in the “exploratory stages for the right market upgrade to utilize. Then it will be available when time comes to do it.”

Mr. Rahll said, “Everyone is waiting to see what happens. We all wanted to see a model, and that hasn’t happened yet.”

In the meantime, he said, “The market is clean. The market is in good shape.”

(For more on the Baltimore market, see the Sept. 6, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)