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Summer in the City: Detroit Style

How the Comeback City’s revival impacts the trade

Whether you prefer to call it a resurgence, a rebirth, or a comeback, there’s no question Detroit is on the upswing—and it’s proving to be a boon for the Motor City’s produce wholesalers.

“For the first time in a long time, we have something to be proud of here,” remarks Dominic Russo, a buyer for Rocky Produce, Inc. at the Detroit Produce Terminal. “People are buying produce, and there’s confidence.”­

In recent years, downtown Detroit has seen an influx of investment funding from businesses like JP Morgan Chase to help turn the struggling city around. The result has been nothing short of amazing: from about 20,000 new jobs since 2010 paired with training and educational opportunities, along with small business incentives and community development projects.

There is also a slew of new retail stores, including national supermarket chains and independent grocers, scores of new restaurants offering a variety of foods and cuisines, extensive renovations to the Cobo Convention Center, and the Detroit Pistons basketball team’s new Little Caesars Arena is slated to open this year to much fanfare.

“With more convention centers and more hotels and overall investment, it’s been fantastic,” asserts Nate Stone, head of special projects for Ben B. Schwartz & Sons, Inc. at the Detroit Produce Terminal. “More restaurants are opening, more retailers are opening, and they’re all going to use produce,” he says.

To top it off, Detroit’s prolonged population decline is finally slowing. Some experts predict the city could see its first growth since the 1950s. “There are people moving back into Detroit, and they’re mostly young people looking for a different kind of excitement—and Detroit is beginning to offer it,” Stone adds.

Thriving Terminals
Throughout Detroit’s ups and downs, the city’s two produce markets, the Detroit Produce Terminal and the Eastern Market, have remained pillars of economic strength. That’s because wholesalers on the markets serve retail and foodservice customers far outside the boundaries of Detroit, across the Midwest and beyond.

“Being based in Detroit, our business is going to increase as the city grows,” says Dominic Riggio, president of Riggio Distribution Company at the Detroit Produce Terminal. “But our business goes so much farther beyond the city. So regardless of what the city does, our growth pattern is good.”

Seven miles northeast, the Detroit Eastern Market has gained a new occupant: Michigan Farm to Freezer. In April, the Traverse City-based processor leased the vacant property in the former Cattleman’s Meat building.