The Reading Terminal Market in Center City Philadelphia has been part of the Philadelphia scene since the 1890s. More than a market, the Terminal is a community hub for food makers and food lovers. In 2014, Reading Terminal was named one of the country’s top ten great public spaces by the American Planning Association, for its architecture, cultural character and of course, its history.
With 76 full time vendors, the Market draws more than six million visitors per year. On a recent afternoon, Philadelphia residents Kyle Shuey and Emily Shover were making their weekly shopping trip to Iovine Brothers produce. Despite living next to a chain grocery store, they choose to buy their fruits and veggies at the Market, not just because it’s cheaper and fresher but because they enjoy the Market’s atmosphere, and that little changes. “Everything is stable,” Shuey said.
Over on the West side of the market, sisters Michelle, 16, and Jessice Dewanto, 12, have literally just arrived in Philadelphia from their home county of Indonesia and share an ice cream cone from the Market’s oldest vendor, Bassetts. With extended family and all their luggage around them, they lick Bassetts chocolate chip cookie dough, made with a recipe that’s more than a hundred years old. “At home, we don’t get to see anything like this,” said the elder sister in awe.
Bassetts Ice Cream was the first merchant to join the market when it opened in 1892 and owner Michael Strange is a fifth generation family owner. He began working at Bassetts with his grandfather when he was in 6th grade. He says that every time he walks into the Market, he’s brought back to his youth. “I love this place,” said Strange, “it’s so central to Philadelphia’s psyche.”
Bassetts itself represents Philadelphia around the country and throughout the world. About seven years ago the company started shipping to China. Strange says what keeps the business going strong is commitment to product quality that hasn’t changed in the past hundred years. He adds that they’ve come a long way since the ice cream was chilled on blocks on ice before refrigeration.
It’s not only that the Market has been good to Strange’s family, but when he’s waiting in line to buy fish or produce, he’s always engaging with other shoppers, swapping cooking stories and tips. Unlike in today’s grocery stores, you’re often buying directly from the owner when you buy a product at the Market.
Dean Frankenfield’s family business, Godshall’s market, has been around since 1916. He can be found most days assisting customers. He said butchering comes natural to members of his family. “Our locals come back,” he said, “they like the stability. It’s not a different face everyday.”