By Erin Thompson

The Daily Item

SUNBURY — The cost of some produce has doubled recently because of cold weather in the South and the earthquake in Chile, local market operators said.

The price spike showed up first at small produce stands, where operators purchase their produce at the same wholesale markets. Larger grocery store chains have their own brokers.

Tomatoes, for example, now cost $45 for a 25-pound case. Before the spike, a case was selling for $20 or $25.

People hungry for tomatoes have been gobbling them up anyway, said Nelson Dressler, of Nelson's Choice Produce in the Sunbury Market House.

He purchases his produce from Philadelphia Regional Center once a week.

Dressler bought fewer tomatoes than usual because of the price increase, but still was sold out before 1 p.m. on Friday.

He doesn't foresee prices going down soon.

"It could get to the point where I won't sell tomatoes," Dressler said.

Some operators already have stopped buying and selling red seedless grapes.

The rise in price for grapes may continue until May, when they come in season in California.

Debbie Kohn, owner of Kohn's market, another stand in the market house, said she gets her fruit from Martin's Produce in Hummels Wharf. She can't afford to sell grapes either, but she purchased the same quantity of tomatoes as usual does. To cover the wholesale price increase, she raised her price from $1.29 to $2.29.

"It's to the point now where — even if you go to a farmer's market — you may not get as good a price as you would at a grocery store," said Dressler.

Dennis Curtin, director of public relations at Weis Markets Inc., said that prices his company pays for Chilean fruit, such as peaches, plums, nectarines and grapes, have held steady and red and white grapes will go on sale, starting Sunday. "We do not know, definitively, how this will play out," Curtin said Friday.

If the growers cannot get their products to ports — and if they cannot ship them — than the prices and supply will be impacted through early May when other markets start producing grapes and stone fruit, Curtin said.

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