In Philadelphia, frustration mounts as temperatures drop
by Tad Thompson | January 26, 2011
Key among Philadelphia's reasons for building what is expected to be the
world’s most modern produce market is working from a facility that is totally
temperature controlled. The construction is behind schedule, and Mother
Nature is the only force controlling temperatures around the old market.
The original plan was for the new market to open in moderate weather last
The Produce News visited the old 1959-vintage market on a frigid morning
Jan. 24, when temperatures hovered in the single digits and produce
distributors were airing frustrations about the construction delays.
Mark Levin, president of M. Levin & Co. Inc., stood at his market sales desk
warmed by a portable space heater that was working overtime to try to keep
up with the biting cold in the office. The company’s doors were open for the
passing of pallet jacks and customers. Because of the weather and typically
slow end-of-month movement, Mr. Levin said he was thankful for any sales
He said that he was also thankful that his firm sells mostly fruit, adding that
customers pushing leafy vegetables around the open market for an hour
before loading would likely face so many black leaves by the following day.
Levin & Co. is building its own banana-ripening rooms at the new market, but
Mr. Levin said his customized construction had yet to begin.
Chip Wiechec, owner of Hunter Bros. Inc., was a picture of exasperation as he
sat at his chilly mezzanine-level desk. He said that business is down on the
old facility and he was anxious to move to a modern operation.
Up the south walk of the market, Ted Kean Jr., owner of E.W. Kean Co. Inc.,
was fully bundled in winter garb as he worked his sales floor. He, too, shook
his head in frustration at the scene, wondering aloud what might have been if
the market had opened on time.
The entire sales staff at Quaker City Produce Co. Inc. was bundled and spoke
among themselves on a quiet Monday morning. Pete Storey, who is running
the operation while his father and company owner Jimmy Storey is taking a
leave of absence, said business is slow.
Among the construction issues the wholesalers discussed were the market’s
new floor being too slippery for forklift traction and the massive new central
refrigeration units being so loud that they make it difficult to hold a normal
Tom Stefanopoulos will eventually be operating a large, modern restaurant
inside the new market. This will replace his two Norm & Lou’s diners, which
are on the old facility’s two docks. Mr. Stefanopoulos said that he will need
six to eight weeks in the building to prepare to move into his new restaurant.
He said that he is not allowed on to the new site even to measure walls. He
said that when criticism arose of progress at the construction site, the builder
ended new-operator access.
At the old market, Mr. Stefanopoulos said that Norm & Lou’s rooftop
refrigeration system has been in need of repairs since last summer. But
because he expected to leave in October, the repairs were not initiated. Now
he faces regular expenses to keep his refrigeration functioning.
"If I had known it would be this long, I would have saved money to make the
improvements last year," he said.
Mr. Stefanopoulos has been told that the new market may not be ready to be
occupied until mid-April.
“It is a complicated project, and it is coming along, but we’re not in position
to say anything” about a move-in date. “We just don’t know at this time,”
John Vena, president of John Vena Inc. and chairman of the new market’s
marketing committee and a member of the board of directors of the
Philadelphia Fresh Food Terminal Corp., told The Produce News Jan. 26. “We
are stuck here with this market and conditions. This building is what it is, and
that is why we want to move.”
He added that the preliminary work to build a new market took a decade, and
he said the market operators were ready to move even back then.
Last year, Mr. Vena said, “I added staff in preparation for that new market.
That is a hardship because we still are here. We have extra people but we are
not able to flex our muscles and do the job we prepared for so many months.
Many of us [on the market] added to staff or did modifications of our
business. I, for one, started an import deal that, when the fruit starts to
arrive, I’m not sure where I’ll put it.”
He continued, “On many fronts — the facility, staffing space, business and
opportunities — we as a group want to get into that new building. Everybody I
talked to said, 'We have to do what we have to do. The building has to be
ready. A few more days won’t make that much difference.’ Our leadership has
taken that to heart. Everyone has been doing what we can. It is a complicated
deal. It is difficult.”
He concluded, “People are really anxious to go for a lot of reasons, especially
this year with the weather. Many of us planned to be there. We have business
activities and we want to get moving.”