Is West Bronx’s loss Hunts Point’s gain?

Growers and food importers move from Terminal Market to Fulton Fish Market

By Carolina K. Moraes

In an effort to keep business going, displaced farmers from the former Bronx Terminal Market have made the parking lot at the Fulton Fish Market their new home.

Currently, five flower growers sell plants and flowers at the lot, and in June, farmers and wholesalers selling fruits, vegetables, and herbs from local farmers and from all over the world will join them, just as they did at the old location.

Chinese bok choy, Mexican espazotes, cilantro, cassava, and chili peppers, Italian tomatoes as well as Caribbean and South Asian products will be available for customers looking for ethnic goods sold at wholesale prices.

Individual shoppers are as welcome as store buyers, but they have to get up early. The market, at 800 Food Center Drive, keeps wholesale hours, from 1 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Saturday.

So far, however, business has been disappointing to the flower growers, who were used to busier days at the former location, along the Major Deegan Expressway.

Jack Hoeffner, the market’s director, blames the chilly and rainy weather since the market’s opening on Easter Sunday for the slow start.

But for some of the tenants, Mother Nature is not the only one to blame.

“People find it hard to come from the other market,” said Butch Koff, referring to the customers who frequented the market near Yankee Stadium, which is being transformed into a mall in conjunction with construction of the new ballpark. “We put some signs up about the relocation. It’s gonna take time to get people acclimated,” he added.

Koff, who works for a grower based in Allentown, New Jersey, had a long history at the Bronx Terminal Market. His bosses were there for more than 30 years and finally left last Christmas in the last round of evictions ordered by the city to make way for the mall.

As part of the deal, the city’s Economic Development Corporation said it would give tenants buyouts to help them relocate, but the farmers at the Fulton Fish Market say they haven’t seen a penny. “We got absolutely nothing from the city of New York,” said Mike Perroni of New Jersey.

The EDC did not return phone calls, seeking a comment.

Heffner and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets came up with this new location after trying a spot at the Hunts Point Produce Market, which proved not to have enough space to accommodate all the former tenants of the Terminal Market.

Frank Cioffi, who owns a food and flower shop on Bruckner Boulevard and comes to the market every day, seemed disconcerted by the amount of room available to each vendor. “Here is a little spaced out,” he said; “there it used to be more farmers. It definitely looks different.”

One characteristic of the new market remains the same in Hunts Point as at the Terminal Market: low prices. They draw retailers from Westchester, Long Island, and all five boroughs.

He has to drive a little farther to get to the new market, but Samuel Olea of Sal’s Fruits and Vegetables on Fordham Road, says this is one of the best places to find a bargain. On a recent visit he was looking for potted plants, but he said he would definitely be back in June for fruits and vegetables, in particular those imported from Mexico.

Even in the chilly early days of April, buyers could find more than 100 different types of plants and flowers in the market. The pink and blue hydrangeas and the red rose are some of the top sellers, at prices between $7 and $13 a pot, and customers are not required to buy the plants in large quantities, making them available to individuals, as well as stores.

Edith Bradnock comes from Westchester for the flowers. “I buy from them for 10 years now,” she said, as she checked out the gardenias.

Visiting the market for the first time, Josephine Gonzales, who owns a flower shop in Manhattan and was a regular at the Terminal Market, said she likes the new location. “They have the same variety of products and I see the same faces around here.”

But shoppers have one common complaint: the $5 parking fee, which they say is inconvenient, especially for people who come frequently. “At the Terminal Market we didn’t get charged anything,” said Kathy Martinucci, a homeowner from the Northeast Bronx.

Market organizers say they will try to lower or waive the fee, particularly on Saturdays when they expect to have some extra business.

“Once homeowners find this new location, they’ll see it is a nice spot,” predicted Len Vecchio, another flower grower from New Jersey. For now, though, like his fellow tenants, he has experienced a drastic decline in business. “Business has been terrible, terrible,” he said.

Hoeffner tries to stay optimistic and hopes for better days when at least eight vendors selling produce will join the flower sellers “I think we’ll be happy here,” he said.

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