Irving Louis (Lou) Sherman died of natural causes at age 98 Oct. 17 at his home in Rosedale, NY. Mr. Sherman spent his approximate 75-year career servicing the New York City produce industry as executive director of the New York Produce Trade Association.
Jo Ann Taylor, office manager for the association worked for Mr. Sherman for 17 years.
“He was an extremely kind man and he didhis job very well,” said Ms. Taylor. “I can truly say that I learned from the very best. He helped transform the New York Produce Market from a small cash-and-carry operation in lower Manhattan to a sophisticated 21st century operation in Hunts Point. He introduced modern credit evaluations and collection methods that allowed wholesalers and retailers alike to expand their businesses.”
The association works on behalf of the approximately 40 companies that are located on Hunts Point by handling contract negotiations, checking credit ratings, issuing invoices to the 5,000 customers who do business on the market each year and collecting about $2.2 billion dollars annually in payments for companies on the market.
In his position, Mr. Sherman helped grow the market from a few family-run businesses to over 80 businesses during his tenure. Today the New York Produce Market is the largest produce market in the world.
Mr. Sherman was born in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. His father, a Russian immigrant, worked in the garment industry, and his mother was a housewife. In 1930, at age16, he began his career as a cashier during the night shift at the Washington Street Produce Market on the lower east side of Manhattan. Business transactions then, as now, occurred outdoors.
“He recalled that on some nights it was so cold that his fingers would stick to the cash box,” said Ms. Taylor.
After a few years, Mr. Sherman landed a clerical job indoors at Kodish and Zwick, a produce company. There he gained valuable knowledge of how the businesses ran its operations. Arthur Slavin, an attorney who was responsible for operating the Washington Street Market under a group called the Ward Smith Association, recognized potential in young Mr. Sherman and brought him in as his protégé. Mr. Slavin taught Mr. Sherman the fundamentals of evaluating customer businesses. In 1967 the Ward Smith Association became the New York Produce Trade Association.
Ms. Taylor said that Mr. Sherman remembered how the market contributed heavily to the allied effort during World War II.
“He recalled how both the army and navy brought trucks to the market where association members donated tons of produce for soldiers and sailors,” said Ms. Taylor.
Despite Mr. Slavin’s expertise, most of the businesses at the market were still operating with 19th century functions in the middle of the 20th century. Conditions at the market were pressured by the expanding post-war economy, and there was a desperate need for business to be brought into the 20th century.
Mr. Sherman began instituting more rigorous policies and procedures. He developed a rating system for customers that were used by the members for creditworthiness. He helped organize the invoicing of customers and the collection of payments for distribution in the market.
To protect members from economic risks, he required that every customer submit annual financial statements. He then established a system of credit evaluation of customers and employed specific strategies to collect outstanding debt: practices that are still in use today.
In 1967, having grown too large for Washington Street, the market was relocated to 100 acres at Hunts Point in the Bronx, where it stands still today.
“Lou continued to cultivate the produce market for another 37 years at Hunts Point,” said Ms. Taylor. “He retired in December 2004 to spend more time with his wife, Sylvia, his son, Jerry, and grandchildren, Amy and Douglas. Sylvia died last year at age 100.”
The New York Trade Association and the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Association have issued a letter of thanks in Mr. Sherman’s memory. It states, “We owe a debt to Mr. Sherman that can never be adequately repaid.”