A chat with John Banks, the Italian Market’s Bag Guy

    John Banks is the Italian Market’s bag guy.

    You need a bag to carry home your finds from Philadelphia’s iconic 9th Street market? He’s your guy.

    “One bag is 50 cents, two bags is $1,” he says, with a smirk. “I’m reasonable.”

    You need groceries delivered? Just give Banks the address, a handful of bucks and he and his shopping cart are off.

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    “I’m like a red cap,” he explained one recent afternoon when business was slow. “They tell me where they need to go, I help them with their groceries. They don’t have to lift nothing.”

    Banks came to the iconic Italian Market in 1991 when the North Philadelphia supermarket where he worked closed and he needed to find work. It took two buses and a train to get to the South Philly market.

    Banks, who was born and raised in North Philly, had never been. But he’d always heard about the place. The minute he got there, the 48-year-old street entrepreneur says he recognized a need. People were often juggling all numbers of bags from shopping at various stores. Sometimes the bags were flimsy. Nearby residents needed a hand getting their groceries home.

    Enter: John’s Grocery Delivery, advertised with an ever-changing and growing mix of handmade signs that Banks creates on cardboard and attaches to his carts.

    “John’s Grocery Since 1991. Serving All Parking Lots + Homes, ETC. The Best Bags On the Market.”

    “John’s Grocery Delivery Service. Honesty. Courtesy. Delivery. Helping You Helping Others.”

    “That’s where I get to be creative,’’ he says. And it works, at least in terms of getting attention. Visitors often stop to take a picture of his carts, stuffed with bags and some of his belongings and a radio that’s always playing music.

    He buys his larger plastic bags from other vendors on the street. The paper ones, he salvages.

    “That’s right, I recycle bags, I won’t lie. Waste not, want not,” he says, laughing

    Banks started off with one shopping cart. The second became necessary because “business was so good.”

    Mid-week to weekends are good, he says. Saturdays, when he can make $50, are best.

    “Mostly tips,” he says. “I make my living off tips.”

    And regulars. “They trust my service. They rely on my service. Treat them like family, they always come back, that’s my saying.”

    Some business owners trying to clean up the street have complained that Banks isn’t conducive to the new image they’re striving for.

    But Banks didn’t seem too concerned then. And he doesn’t seem too worried about his place on the street now.

    “They love me like a son down here, they honestly do.”

    And he in turn returns the love.

    “Come back any time,” he yells out after me. “You have a friend on 9th Street.”

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