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Treading Time

Treading Time

For every time you wondered if walls could talk, here you will find a voice given to the beams and bricks of an industry landmark. Often the companies that shape us are referred to as homes, and within those walls are the people who make up the foundation, helping to hold the structure together as each new addition builds one dream onto another.

It is this wealth of wisdom that has secured a legacy in the Giumarra Companies, which celebrates its centennial in the produce industry this year. A hundred years of relationships, stories, and success. Of being a part of a larger purpose, secure in its strength by the depths of its roots. The timeline alone is an impressive showing of the company’s standing, but dig deeper and you’ll also find careers cultivated and lives shaped. Reach into just a handful of the loyalties Giumarra has grown and find several pearls of such wisdom to choose from.

 

Giuseppe Giumarra, his brothers, and brother-in-law founded the wholesale operation Giumarra Bros. Fruit Co. in 1922 in Los Angeles, California

 

 

 

 

Giuseppe Giumarra eventually purchased farmland in Bakersfield, California, in 1939 that grew into the Giumarra Vineyards of today. The family simultaneously operated Giumarra Bros. Fruit Co. in Los Angeles

 

 

 

 

Under the leadership of former President and current Chairman Don Corsaro, the wholesale operation experienced a period of rapid expansion beginning in the 1970s that grew the business into the Giumarra Companies you know today

 

 

 

 

In 2022, Giumarra proudly celebrates the 100-year anniversary of its Los Angeles wholesale operation, Giumarra Bros. Fruit Co, encompassing more than 200 employees, a global growing network, and an ever-expanding portfolio of high-quality produce and unique brand offerings

 

Craig Uchizono

Then: Delivery and Manual Labor – Now: Vice President, Southern Hemisphere

“Working at Giumarra has given me more than just my produce knowledge. It also taught me that being straightforward and honest outweighs the sale itself. I learned that those of us who grew up in California’s Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market are a family. 

In market terms, my first role was to ‘push the yard.’ As my experience grew, my passion for the produce business continued to grow, as well. As soon as I turned 16, my father, Taro ‘Tom’ Uchizono, who was Executive Vice President for Giumarra Companies at the time, made me work every holiday break and every weekend throughout the year. I guess you can say it was a way for him to keep an eye on me and teach me what hard work really was. Well, that hard work turned into a different kind of understanding for me. I was the boss’ son, so my co-workers gave me all the hard jobs. I never complained and never said no, and it seemed I passed the test. After working all those holidays, weekends, and finishing my college education, I knew produce was in my blood.

During the early 1970s and through the ’80s, just about every local chain store buyer and food distributor walked the wholesale produce market each day. They would see the produce on display and take the time to talk to the guys who pushed the yard and drove the trucks. Needless to say, my passion for the wholesale produce business started from those early experiences I remember. The camaraderie from co-workers in the wholesale market and sharing stories with the buyers from yesteryear are still things I cherish and miss.”

 


Glen Tomkiewicz

Then: Receiving Process – Now: Retired, Grape Sales and Special Projects

“It takes special people to work the wholesale market in downtown L.A., or any other terminal market across the country for that matter. In my early days, the hours were not easy. I usually started at midnight and got home anytime from 10 a.m. to noon. You would constantly work on relationships with buyers walking by your fruit, trying to sell them first before getting to the next house, where you might just win or lose that sale. Your displays, your quality and condition, and—above all—taste, mattered. I remember seeing a customer take a bite out of two cloves of garlic and chew them to determine who had the best lot. Now, that’s dedication! Quite frankly, the same toughness and commitment are still required today to be better than the competition in our industry.

My favorite time in the Old 7th Street Market was during the early LTD (Giumarra California treefruit division, now known as Giumarra Reedley) days. I still remember the aroma of peaches, nectarines, and apricots—and the adrenaline rush in making a deal with customers! Back then, having the chance to be Ted Nakamura’s Sales Assistant in the apple and pear department at Giumarra, I began actually selling to retailers, which opened up an opportunity to help start a new division that became The William Hooker Division focused on selling apples, pears, and stonefruit from California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Idaho, as well as imports from Australia.

While I had the chance to be a part of changes like that within our company, the biggest change I have seen industry-wide is consolidation on both the supply- and the retail-side. Smaller growers started consolidating their commodities either under one roof or as close to a one-stop shop as possible. This became even more important as the retail sector started buying up smaller retailers. Now, the goal is to be in front of the retailer year-round with the best quality product and consistent supplies.”

 


Gregory Atkinson

Then: Packing Plant, Sticker Application – Now: West Coast Manager, Giumarra International Berry

“My first role at Giumarra was working at the Escondido, California, avocado packing plant in 1994, putting stickers on avocados as they came down the line. With time, I learned QC [quality control], sorting and packing, shipping, gassing, picking and field/ranch pick-up with boom trucks, and how to speak Spanish. I love to share the story about the soccer game I played down in the Escondido parking lot. That was the first day I felt I became part of a family, crew, and team.

Eventually I moved to working in the wholesale operation. My earliest memories of working on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market were meeting a lot of crazy, funny, fun, hard-working people who I fit right in with. And of course, there was the time when I accidentally dumped not one, but two, full pallets of Hachiya persimmons off a forklift in the middle of the street. I thought I was in for it! My first thoughts were, ‘What is Don Corsaro going to do,’ and ‘How will I pay for them?’

The wholesale produce market is the grassroots produce business, the old-school style of moving fruit. It is a lot of work and will make a man or woman out of you if you give it enough time. It is a great place to get ground-up knowledge of many different commodities in the industry.”

 


John Corsaro

Then: Clerk – Now: Chief Executive Officer

“I think I was in eighth grade when I first got to work part-time at the produce warehouse and market. I washed floors and walls, painted those walls, and sorted fruit at the warehouse, then did the same at the wholesale store. When I got strong enough, I was allowed to deliver product by hand truck throughout the market, taking inventory on produce stored in the basement and the Stanford Avenue warehouse. This was between 1979 to 1988, and I was working when I was available in between school hours. I started full-time in the late ’80s. We had a telex machine—maybe the first fax machine (with curly paper)—and landlines. So, the biggest change for me has been watching the technology we use evolve. Obviously, in a 32-year-span, many big changes have happened, but technology in all facets has, and will be, evolving continuously.

I have so many incredible memories, it’s hard to single one out. What gives me the most pleasure are the people and work environment. The market was a beautiful melting pot of ethnicities with an extended family mentality. The wholesale produce market is still involved in a great deal of ethnic-specific trade. It has also become a logistics hub for produce, rather than a point-of-sale market. You learned to work as a team. It required strong basic math and the ability to negotiate any type of situation.

A funny story I recall is one time, John McCormick was parading his sales invoices up to the cashier in front of Tommy Uchizono. The only problem was, Frank Lopez had hooked a ‘tail’ on the back of his belt and lit the end on fire. Tommy only shook his head and went upstairs to his office.”

 


Tom TW Wilson

Then: Yard Dispatcher – Now: Grape Sales Manager

“When I started in the industry, there were not even fax machines; we had a teletype for export orders. There were no cell phones. I was the first to get a ‘mobile phone’ in the company. It was a combination of a car phone and mobile phone the size of a backpack or briefcase, weighing about 20 pounds. Today, a lot of business is conducted by email, text, etc. Relationships are still very, very important, but the business is less and less personal than it used to be. If I could change anything about the business, I would change that trend.

My first night on the L.A. Wholesale Market was in 1976, and I was amazed by all the activity and the unbelievable scents I experienced while walking through with my boss at the time, Al Dieter of La Habra Produce. A week later, I was doing all the buying for La Habra. After about a month, I was approached by one of the ‘old timers’ of Kaplan Produce who pulled me aside and told me I had a decision to make—to look for a new job or not—warning me, ‘If you stay, produce will get into your blood and you will do this for the rest of your life.’ He was right! In January of 1980, I asked Craig Uchizono if Giumarra might be looking for a good man to hire. He asked who I had in mind, and I said, ‘Me!’ Craig said, ‘Can you start next Friday?’

The wholesale produce market taught me the value of relationships, hard work, and what fresh produce is all about. At the time, the wholesale market was the building block for the produce industry. Technology has made things much different now, but I think there isn’t anything more important in my career than the experience I gathered working on the market from the bottom up.”

 


Chuck Anunciation

Then: Delivery and Manual Labor – Now: Division Manager, Giumarra Bros. Fruit Co.

“When I began working in the produce industry as a teenager in 1976, my father was a salesman for T&T Produce at the wholesale market. I did a brief stint making deliveries within the market. I remember when deliveries were made only on ‘clamp trucks,’ or ‘two-wheeled dollies.’ The job was practically all manual labor, with everything stacked by hand. Occasionally, you might see a forklift, but it was rare. There were no pallets or pallet jacks back then.

I spent a good chunk of my career on the buying side, and also operated my own retail grocery store, Forest Farms’ Farmers Market in Big Bear Lake, California, during 2003–2010. As a buyer during the 1980s, ’90s, and early 2000s, I walked the wholesale market every day, Monday through Friday. I started as early as midnight—the competition as a buyer called for it. I had to make sure I got there early to get my share of the best quality product.

For several reasons, most of the larger customers that once shopped the market now source directly from grower/shippers, so the foot traffic in the market has scaled way back. The customer base is still abundant; those customers just don’t walk the market as they did ‘back in the day.’ Most importantly, you can still source just about any produce item at the L.A. Wholesale Produce Market. If it grows and it’s available, it will be there.

There are many stories to look back on, but what matters most of all are the friends and relationships that were made within the market and the produce industry. That is the best takeaway to remember.” 

Treading Time