John J. Collotti, 81, of Medford, former owner of the South Philadelphia produce wholesaler Collotti & Sons, died Friday, March 27, at Care One in Evesham, after a stroke.
"He was the Berry King," his son Jack said. "Everybody knew him as Strawberry Jack."
Mr. Collotti grew up near 65th Street and Elmwood Avenue in Philadelphia and graduated from the grammar school of St. Barnabas parish.
Mr. Collotti inherited his produce instincts from his father, Jimmy Collotti, "who sold to little stores," Jack Collotti said.
"He would take the truck, go in after hours, unlock the door, bring the produce in," Jack Collotti said, and go on his way, so that the store owner would find his produce inside when he arrived in the morning.
John J. Collotti's firm had its origins in the 1950s, in the wholesale markets on Dock Street in the Society Hill neighborhood, his son said.
After gentrification pushed the markets out of Dock Street, the Collotti firm relocated with them in 1959 to the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, part of the Food Distribution Center on Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia.
In June 2011, the Collotti firm and two dozen other merchants moved again, opening the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market at 6700 Essington Ave. in Southwest Philadelphia.
Richie Nardella, 73, a retired produce merchant, recalled Mr. Collotti as "a really good guy."
Nardella said that as competitors they first met in 1971, selling produce fresh off boxcars at a freight train depot, "off Oregon Avenue near Delaware Avenue."
Later in the morning, Mr. Collotti would go to his place at the Food Distribution Center.
"He was a fantastic guy, so full of vitality," Nardella said. "Always laughing, always smiling."
John J. Collotti "sold everything," his son said, and the firm's website today suggests as much, from five kinds of carrots to six kinds of lettuce.
Mr. Collotti ceased to run the firm in the early 2000s, his son said, "but he still came in once or twice a week until a year or two ago, to keep his finger in what was going on."
All three of Mr. Collotti's sons work in the business, Jack Collotti said.
Besides Jack Collotti, Mr. Collotti is survived by Kathleen, his wife of 28 years, sons Vincent and Chris, daughter Kathleen King, stepdaughters Lisa Perretta and Nicole Oifer, 11 grandchildren, and his former wife, Betty Collotti.
A visitation was set from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, April 4, at the Mathis Funeral Home, 58 N. Main St., Medford, before an 11 a.m. funeral there, with interment in Locustwood Memorial Park, Cherry Hill.
Donations may be sent to the Animal Welfare Association at www.awanj.com.
Condolences may be offered to the family at www.mathisfuneralhome.com.