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Hurricane Sandy aftermath could have lasting effects for some

People in the Northeast were shopping aggressively in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. At a Fairway store in Manhattan, even the garlic bins were close to being emptied.

"That's our garlic," said Anthony DeAngelis, director, northeast division for Christopher Ranch, headquartered in Gilroy, CA. "Fairway is a big user of our products."

Mr. DeAngelis said that after the 1804Mushroom displays in need of restocking after Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Damon Kornhauser)storm he heard that stores that were damaged had to wait before becoming operational again, limiting their ability to restock quickly.

"With so many electrical outages reported in the Northeast, it was likely a challenge for some to keep produce fresh even if they were able to restock," he said. "In the meantime, Christopher Ranch is just trying to keep everyone 'in good flavor.' "

Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods in the Bronx, NY, said that while the company's facility did not sustain physical damage, the real whiplash from the storm would likely be financial.

"Some of our customers have been wiped out, and they won't be paying their invoices," said Mr. Muzyk. "Produce is either green and growing, or it's brown and dying. We had no choice but to keep working through the storm."

He noted that when a disaster of any kind occurs, hospitals, police and fire departments, emergency units and others in the public sector must continue to function.

"In our business that extends all the way to the hotel level," said Mr. Muzyk. "They are my customers, and if they don't close, I don't close -- they need supplies, and so they need us.

"We had to be very creative to get deliveries to customers," he continued. "We had a significant market share following the storm because some other suppliers were not operational. But the George Washington Bridge being closed created a big problem. If product is coming in from anywhere west or south of New York, it's coming over that bridge to get to me."

The situation, he said, was total turmoil for a while, and even if product could get to the Bronx, companies like Baldor had to ask themselves if they even wanted it.

"It's a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' scenario," said Mr. Muzyk. "But we quickly figured out who was open and needed us. Then there was the logistical problem. Fuel could not be pumped into trucks because there was no electricity."

Steven Dandrea, co-owner of Dandrea Produce in Vineland, NJ, told The Produce News that when it comes to disasters like Hurricane Sandy, people tend to feel one of two emotions. "You either feel pity for yourself, or you feel empathy for others. My brother, Frank, lives just four houses away from me in Longport, New Jersey. His entire deck was ripped off, but my house got though it without damage. Our business didn't suffer a bit, and in fact we were cutting herbs and lettuces the day after the storm, all of which came out of the ground in perfect condition. It's hard to figure why some get hit and others don't."

The proclaimed state of emergency on Monday and Tuesday during the storm shut roads and businesses in New Jersey, but people were aware and so were not trying to function at full capacity.

"On Tuesday we resumed with some movement, but it was Wednesday before we felt operational again," said Mr. Dandrea. "The shore areas really suffered, so it's a wait-and-see scenario on which companies will be reopening and which won't. Times like this remind us all of what is truly important in life."

Companies located at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market felt effects of Hurricane Sandy on both a personal and business level.

Mark Levin, co-owner of M. Levin & Co. located on the Philadelphia market, said that product delays were among the worst business-related problems.

"On Monday morning, as the storm was closing in, we were open until about noon," said Mr. Levin. "We had an abundance of orders being filled for Delaware, Virginia, Washington, DC, Baltimore and other areas. Most trucks got out by about 8 a.m., but they were returned to us because the roads were already being closed and they could not get through."

Merchandise that was due to arrive at the market on Sunday and Monday didn't show up until Tuesday and Wednesday. Mr. Levin said that product coming in all at one time caused a major backlog for a while.

"Losses were evident in labor and time, but we didn't lose product because the shelf life was still ample," he said. "The Jersey shore suffered drastically. Some retailers there weren't operational a week after the storm. Before the storm, one customer's store was 100 yards from the shoreline, and today it has about three feet of sand inside."

Fuel was another major concern. Mr. Levin said that some customers, even a week later, were afraid to come to the terminal market because they weren't sure they had enough gas to get there, or if once there, they couldn't find gas to get them home.

Boston reported a slight mix of damage: none in some areas, some in others.

Steve Piazza, president of Community-Suffolk Inc., located on the Boston Market Terminal in Everett, MA, said that there was no mentionable damage at the terminal, but added, "My brother Jackie is the director of citrus sales for our company, and that division is on the New England Produce Center in nearby Chelsea. They lost power for a period of time."

Jackie Piazza said power was out at the division for a day-and-a-half.

"Some guys opened but others did not," he said. "Temperatures were fine for citrus, so product loss wasn't an issue. I didn't have transportation issues, but we did hear of delays. Because business sort of grinded to a halt for a couple of days, we really didn't need much product.

"Following the storm, however, retailers were back in the terminal markets like gangbusters because they needed to refill as quickly as possible," he added. "We were lucky. There were no downed trees or electrical wires. As of a few days after the storm, we were hearing that stores and restaurants were open and back in business."

Anthony Sharrino, president of Eaton & Eustis Co., also located on the New England Produce Center, said that power was out in half of one building, but his company was among the more fortunate in that it did not lose power.

"Business wasn't good for a couple of days because some customers in the outlying areas had power outages," said Mr. Sharrino. "The storm hit on Monday, and on Tuesday business was off, but by Wednesday it was back to pretty much normal."