STEUBENVILLE - Merging his family owned and operated Steubenville Fruit Co. with Bridgeville, Pa.-based Clover Hill Foods was a common-sense business solution for changing market dynamics, owner Mark Longo said.
That didn't make it any easier.
While a cold rain fell steadily outside, inside the fruit company's Sixth Street storefront teamed with activity Thursday morning as the remnants of the Longo family's 70-plus years in business were auctioned away. Everything from delivery vans, walk-in freezers, and display coolers to office equipment, meat slicers, cappucinno makers and snow-cone machines went on the block, none of it needed by them or Clover Hill.
SAYING GOODBYE — Steubenville Fruit Co.’s merger with Clover Hill foods didn’t include the building, and on Thursday owners Mark and Margaret Longo were on hand as the equipment and other items accumulated over the past 70-plus years as a family-owned and operated enterprise were auctioned away. The Longos said the building itself will be put up for sale in coming weeks. All but one of the fruit company employees will transition to Clover Hill.
-- Linda Harris
The sprawling warehouse and office complex aren't needed by Clover Hill, either, and will be put up for sale in coming weeks.
"They're a larger company, they have a lot more to offer our customers and cover a lot more territory," said Longo, whose somber expression belied his matter-of-fact tone. "We went from a product line of about 2,500 to over 7,000 items (with the merger)."
Longo, whose family had been in the produce business in the region since the late 1800s, said "a lot of work, a lot of long hours" went into the running of the family business.
"Years ago there were 30 grocery stores around Steubenville, 30 independently owned grocery stores," he said. "Now there are very few. The economy changed. The actual area changed. Our focus switched from basic produce, servicing mom-and-pop style stores, to the food service industry supplying schools, hospitals, taverns"
The business started out as a branch of a Columbus-based produce company that served the now-defunct A&P food chain. In 1942, when A&P decided to start its own produce company, Longo's father, A.T. "Tom" Longo, convinced two friends, Phil and Ernie Scaff, to go into business with him. World War II was raging, and a year or so later "they got cold feet and Dad ended up being sole owner," he said.
A.T. Longo semi-retired in 1976, leaving operations in the hands of his son.
"We were the last of the three families in Steubenville who did produce," Longo said.
About 19 people worked at Steubenville Fruit Co. prior to the merger. All but one will stay on with Clover Hill. Longo himself will be district sales manager and produce buyer, and his wife, Margaret, will be a buyer.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)