Like Los Angeles itself, the Produce District is simultaneously seductive and off-putting; crumbling and dynamic; a relic of the past with a vision for the future. One indisputable fact, however, is that it serves as an invaluable link to California’s fresh fruit and vegetable industry. California produces over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fresh fruits and nuts.
The Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market (LAWPM) and the adjacent, older Central Market sit firmly in the epicenter of the nation’s second largest population, with proximity to three large ports as well as rail and truck hubs. This means that despite uncertainties and gentrification, the Los Angeles produce market is essential to the distribution of California’s bounty.
An Evolving Marketplace
The Los Angeles Produce Market is a curious combination of old and new, comprised of two markets and surrounding businesses. The Central Market, aka the ‘Old Market’ or Terminal Market, is a collection of historic buildings along Southern Pacific railroad tracks that have been in use since the early twentieth century. Most of the businesses are small vendors that rent their spaces on a month-to-month basis.
While still a thriving marketplace for produce trade, significant changes have been afoot. Rents have increased by 20 to 25 percent recently. Row DTLA, a development company, has been repurposing many of the buildings on the 30-acre site for trendy businesses and creative office space. The conventional wisdom is that the Terminal Market will cease to function as a produce market sooner rather than later.
Jeffrey McLellan, service and support manager for QSI, LLC, comments, “It’s getting harder for the vendors on the Old Market. Once neglected, now the property is becoming highly valuable. If your business—whether wholesale produce or hip restaurant—isn’t successful pretty quickly, you can’t afford to stay.”
McLellan mentions rising property values, gentrification of the warehouse district, and thinks the city should do more to clean it up. “We’re handling food here! We’re an important tax base and shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
The adjacent LAWPM, which opened in 1986, is a bustling center for produce distribution. Unlike the terminal market, the vendors share ownership of the property, so the future is more secure. According to one source, the LAWPM is very well capitalized, making the partners more in control of their own destiny. With the exception of a few sub-leasing tenants, the businesses there are large and vertically integrated. The LAWPM encompasses 550,000 square feet of warehouse space on 30 acres, generating $2 to $3 billion a year in revenue. “Land values may be increasing, but hundreds of businesses are dependent on the market in its present form,” notes the source.