June 2017

Where have all the fruit peddlers gone? For that matter, where has a large segment of the Northern Ohio wholesale produce brokers at the 88- year-old central receiving and distribution center on Croton Avenue (off E. 40th Woodland Ave.) gone?

Peddler’s first – mostly Italian immigrants – doing business in ‘broken English’ started with push-carts, horses and wagons, station wagons, and trucks. They bought their produce at the Northern Ohio Food Terminal. As a teenager, I worked with my nonno who sometimes had to buy onions if he wanted potatoes. We’d load his truck to the rooftop and off we went house-to-house on the southeast side of town.

Nonno would tell me not to oversell because he needed to have enough produce later in the day for customers down the route. Working with him, I learned how to drive and master the H-gear shift and ‘jack-rabbit’ routine. This was a time I also thought all fruit peddlers in the world were Italians. Names bantered back and forth and included Marcellino, Anselmo, Londrico, Lombardi, LoPresti, and Randazzo. Spread over 34 acres, the Northern Ohio Food Terminal opened in June of 1929 and for a long time was jammed with a variety of merchants wholesaling produce, meat, and poultry. Among the groups were the Haas Brothers, Seaway, Rini, Maury Feren, Terminal Vegetables, Paolo Volpe & Sons, Don Maher Poultry, Blue Ribbon Meats, Economy Produce, and Sanson. Everything from bananas to chickens!

At its peak, this distribution center had 100 merchants, employing 1500 people, handling food annually valued at $140 million. Thousands of railroad carloads and trucks were coming and going each year. Slowly but surely, these history-making dispensers of fresh produce and foods to grocers, restaurants, and hotels faded away. At the terminal, saying arrivederci most recently to the ‘golden years’ were Joe at Cavalier and Jimmy & Andy at Forest City Weingart. The leading produce wholesaler, The Sanson Company still anchors the property. Also doing business on site are Economy, Cooseman, and Global. I hope the Cleveland Wholesale Food Trade that began on Woodland, Central and Broadway from E. 6 to E. 9 and moved to the central market at E. 40 is ‘not terminally ill.’