Philadelphia has two famous markets, each with its own story and character, and plenty of differences. While the Reading Terminal Market in Center City is a teeming department store of food stands, the Italian Market in South Philly is a phenomenon that's disappeared from most American cities: a street market.
The Italian Market doesn't occupy a large square and it doesn't have an enclosed market hall. Instead, it stretches along about twenty blocks of South Philadelphia's South 9th Street, with stores and stands lining both sides of both sidewalks, much of it covered by arcades.
Immigrants, largely from Italy, settled in the area, which was then outside the city limits, starting in the 1880s, and stores grew up to serve them. By the early 1900s, merchants banded together to create the market as we know it. The association is still around and actively promoting the market, including on TV.
But let's take a moment on the "Italian Market" name, which it's borne almost from the beginning. But, while the area, and the market, have always been heavily Italian and Italian-American, the founders of the association included merchants from Jewish, Lebanese, Asian and east European communities.
That diversity, as well as change, can be seen today in the variety of Spanish names and cuisines now in the market, along with Vietnamese and Koreans.
The Market has had a tough year; its local customers are there, but it also relies on visitors and customers from all over the Philadelphia area, but during the pandemic many people stayed closer to home. At the market's information storefront, I was told that business is building up again. And when I visited again briefly on Saturday a couple of days after my weekday visit, it was certainly a lot busier.
Food dominates the offerings all along the market, but it's not all there is. Some stands and stores deal in clothing and hardware and the like, and Fante's has a stock of kitchen equipment, commercial and home, that could teach a Williams-Sonoma store a thing or two.
Quite a few of the merchants have been in the market for many years
And some are famous, even if dubiously so...
DiBruno's is the biggest cheesemonger in the Market. They also have a cafe, pastry, and several branches around town—some of them a bit upscale. In the market, they sponsor an open space for outdoor eating, complete with mural.
Pasta? Of course...lots of choices, fresh, frozen or dried...
And there's even a spot for the vegans...
And an unusual sign that the storefront opposite is a music school.
Congratulations to George G, who solved our One-Clue Mystery!