In 1906 the late Michael Levin began selling bananas off of the back of a horse drawn wagon along the cobblestoned streets of what is now Society Hill, Philadelphia. He began his business by extending credit to those whom he felt were “trustworthy”. By 1912, his reputation, ability and integrity had grown so that the Atlantic Fruit Company turned over to him its largest jobbing house on Dock Street. By the mid-1920s, Michael and his brothers had developed into the largest banana business in the eastern part of the United States.
The company during the Great Depression found itself deep in debt from extending credit to those whom could not pay their bills. After the Depression, Michael along with his four sons began to rebuild the business. They began rebuilding by importing fruit into Florida from Cuba and Haiti. Michael and his son, Leon, set up shop in Miami and began sending bananas by boxcar back up to Philadelphia. Once there, Michael’s other three sons, Martin, Albert and Ralph, would ripen and distribute the bananas.
In the mid-1950s, the original Philadelphia Produce Marked located on Dock Street decided to move from its Dock Street location to a new facility on Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia. M. Levin & Company, Inc. became a part of the Philadelphia Regional Produce Terminal Market and also built a 200,000 square foot warehouse headquarters where they did their banana ripening, directly across the street from the market. In the 1960s and 1970s the current third generation of Levins entered the business, Mark Levin, Michael Levin, David Levin and Joel Segel. This third generation divided up the responsibilities that were once their grandfathers’, fathers’ and uncles’.
Fast forward to the 2000s and Mark, Michael, David and Joel all have their daughters diligently working in the family business. The fourth generation is comprised of an entirely female cast, Margie Fischman, Sarah Levin, Tracie Levin and Brenda Segel. The third generation is actively involved in the business and is imparting their words of wisdom to their daughters for how to run a successful produce business. Michael and Joel’s daughters, Margie and Brenda, have been working in the business since the 1990’s. Margie works in the company’s foodservice division and Brenda works in inventory control. Mark’s daughter, Tracie, joined the company in 2006 after graduating from the University of Delaware and is involved in new business development and operations management. Tracie has been actively involved in both United Fresh and PMA’s Leadership Development programs since she began with the company. M. Levin realizes the importance in widening the scope of the fourth generation in order for them to truly understand the produce industry. David’s daughter, Sarah, is the most recent addition to the group. She joined the company in 2009 after graduating from West Chester University and is involved in the company’s banana ripening division. All four women are working together to update the business to today’s standards, knowing that in today’s world women are integral parts of the business world. With the constantly evolving food-safety concerns in today’s produce world the girls see this as a coming challenge and are proactively working towards the goal of becoming third-party food safety audit compliant. As a group they see this as something that will set them apart from others who are slower to adapt in this fast-changing industry. The fourth generation is also more adept than their former generations when it comes to technology. In the past few years this generation has been involved in transitioning the company into a new computer system that allows the company to operate more efficiently, and allows for greater traceability features than the prior system allowed for. This generation also sees the value in social media. They have also created a Facebook page (M. Levin & Company Inc.), allowing for others in the industry to stay in touch with what is new and exciting in the company. The fourth generation is working diligently to modernize the business by bringing their current ideas to the table and will be able to see how they will grow and develop along with the business.
In June of 2010 M. Levin made the move from the antiquated terminal market to the state-of-the-art Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market on Essington Avenue in SW Philadelphia (the building is touted as, “the world’s largest refrigerator”). M. Levin currently occupies six units in the market along with 22 other wholesalers. Within the new market, M. Levin has built 14 state-of-the-art ripening rooms which have allowed them to further expand their ripening capabilities. Today M. Levin & Company, Inc. is still recognized as one of the largest jobbers/wholesalers of bananas on the North American continent. With the fourth generation being taught from life-long produce industry veterans, there is little doubt that these four women will not be able to move the company forward and show the produce industry how it’s really done these days. M. Levin & Company, Inc. grew from a banana company into one that today carries a full-line of domestic and imported fruits and vegetables, including an impressive list of tropical items, as well as handles juices, drinks, peanuts, seasonal items, value-added produce and an assortment of paper products to complement retail produce departments. M. Levin also has delivery capabilities to ship items as far north as Canada, as far west as Chicago, and as far south as Virginia. This year M. Levin & Company, Inc. celebrates its 111th year of being in operation and thanks their loyal suppliers and customers for all they have done throughout the years to keep M. Levin one of the top wholesalers in the region!