Reading Terminal Market celebrates 125 years as melting pot of tastes, cultures

Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia is celebrating its 125th anniversary. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia is celebrating its 125th anniversary. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

This year, as the iconic Reading Terminal Market turns 125 years old, it’s a great time to celebrate the Market’s role in the life of the city, and why it is so important to keep it strong and healthy.

Make no mistake, the Market today is thriving: 70,000 square feet of fresh and delicious food, where you can buy the region’s finest meat, produce and seafood while also tasting tempting flavors from here at home and around the world. It is the most visited site in Philadelphia, with more than seven million visitors annually.

But more than that, Reading Terminal Market is a place where people from all walks of life feel right at home. The Market draws people from every race, religion, ethnicity, geography and income level, a prime example of Elijah Anderson’s famed “Cosmopolitan Canopy,” where “people engage one another in a spirit of civility, or even comity and good will.”

In that sense, the Market is a vital piece of Philadelphia’s civic fabric. Where else in Philadelphia – or anywhere in America, for that matter – can you find people literally from every socioeconomic sector standing shoulder to shoulder in pursuit of their purchases?

It is an astounding scene, one that plays out dozens of times a day: Some of the wealthiest people in Philadelphia, shopping or knoshing side by side with folks who make the Market one of Pennsylvania’s highest redemption sites for the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

These days, when it often seems like our society is ripping apart along lines of race, class, religion, ethnicity and country of origin, the welcoming canopy of the Market is more important than ever.

Reduced to a slogan, it might be: “Hate has no home in the pursuit of Beiler’s doughnuts.”

Last year, for example, the Market in partnership with the Knight Foundation and others hosted a series of events to foster better understanding between people of different cultures. Known as Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers, it featured a series of cross-cultural cooking classes that culminated in 11 joint dinners hosted at the Market.

At a time when policies are promulgated to keep people apart, we know that food – an enduring common denominator – still provides a forum for folks to find common ground.

Why is the Market so welcoming to so many? A big reason is the composition of the Market’s merchants and employees, who themselves come from all walks of life and passionately present their diverse culinary skills every day. Across the spectrum, there is literally something for everyone here.

The Market is where returning citizens and the newest Americans – refugees and immigrants from around the world – are earning their own slice of the American Dream. We are home to more than 70 family-owned businesses; a place where families make a living together and can still impact the wider world.

Keeping this welcoming spirit alive takes hard work, as well as your continued support. As Center City continues to attract new residents each year, the demand for more fresh food options continues to grow. And while we welcome the competition, the truth is that we work hard to keep our customer base as diverse as possible.

In a very real sense, the cosmopolitan canopy is what distinguishes the Market and makes us such an appealing place to visit and shop.

Reading Terminal Market is the heartbeat of Philadelphia, a treasure that belongs to all of us, and with your help, we can keep it beating for another 125 years.

Anuj Gupta is the general manager of Reading Terminal Market.

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