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Philadelphia and New York terminal markets, Eastern growers batten down for Hurricane Sandy

As Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the Northeast, the produce trade was making preparations to cope with the storm of historic proportions that was expected to cause massive flooding and power outages throughout the densely populated area.

At 9:10 a.m., Mon. Oct. 29, Tad Thompson, business development manager for the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, told The Produce News that just 10 minutes earlier, market officials made the decision to close the market early.

“We typically stay open until 1:00 p.m.,sanAt the Virginia home of Steve McCready, co-owner and controller of Northampton Growers, water was already flooding into the garage at approximately 8:30 a.m. this morning. Photo courtesy of Northampton Growers but we’re shutting down today at noon,” said Mr. Thompson. “We plan to reopen the market at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening.”

Mr. Thompson said that Sonny DiCrecchio, president and chief executive officer of the PWPM, in collaboration with the market’s board of directors, make the final decisions as to when the market should close during emergent situations such as Hurricane Sandy.

He noted that grocery stores that buy from the market sold out of just about everything over the weekend as consumers were buying up as much food as possible in case they cannot leave their homes for a period of time.

“Retailers were back at the market this morning to restock,” said Mr. Thompson. “Apparently, many of them are planning to stay open or reopen pretty fast.”

Mr. Thompson was driving in his SUV when he said, “It is really pouring down rain, and the winds are blowing me all over I-95.”

He added that changes in opening and closing times of the market are posted on its website at wwwpwmp.net for the convenience of market employees as well as customers and delivery trucks.

“We’re also at the mercy of the highway systems,” said Mr. Thompson. “Roads have to be open in order for people to get to us.”

Tommy Kovacevich, general manager of Kovacevich-Philadelphia Inc., located on the PWPM, concurred with Mr. Thompson.

“The biggest potential problem we face is people getting into and out of the market,” said Mr. Kovacevich. “As of this morning, the highways in Delaware were closed. And we are concerned about the New Jersey Turnpike. If it puts a ban on trailers, anyone en route in a truck could be made to stop and ride out the storm on the highway. We’ve already taken our trucks off the road.

“Power outages are, of course, the other major concern,” he continued. “It’s all a guessing game at the moment. We’re hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”

Michele Turkel, executive director of the New York Produce trade Association Inc., located at the Hunt Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY, said she arrived at the market at about 6:45 a.m. today.

“That’s the time of day that this market is typically hopping,” said Ms. Turkel. “But it was really quiet when I got here. There were hardly any trucks here, and I think I’m one of only a couple of people on the market. I’m heading home soon because the Bronx River Parkway is going to be closed down shortly, and that’s how I get home.”

The New York Produce Trade Association works on behalf of the approximately 40 companies that are located on Hunts Point. It does contract negotiations, handles credit ratings and issues invoices to the 5,000 customers who do business on the market each year. It also collects about $2.2 billion annually in payments for companies on the market.

“We feel the worst of this storm will be tonight,” said Ms. Turkel. “The market manager, Rick Rodelli, and the board of directors make the decisions on when the market should be closed or opened in case of emergencies like this one. People can check the market website, www.huntspointproducemkt.com, for updates.

A bit further south along the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Hurricane Sandy was already putting a major sting on people. Calvert Cullen, co-owner of Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., headquartered in Cheriton, VA, said that as of 9 a.m., the winds were blowing at between 35-40 miles per hour, and the area had already received four to six inches of water.

“The rain is coming down really hard and relentless,” said Mr. Cullen. “The biggest problem for people on the Eastern Shore is the expected high tide. My partner, Steve McCready, lives on the Shore. He sent me a photo just a moment ago showing how the water is already flooding his garage, and we expect this to get a whole lot worse.”

Mr. Cullen added that the company still has some crops in the ground in Virginia, but that it’s anyone’s guess what’s going to happen to them at this point.