I was so excited when I realised that I would have time in between my conferences here in Philadelphia to visit the Reading Terminal Market. The website’s description is pretty much my idea of a top tourist destination:
Mouth-watering aromas. Produce fresh from the field. Amish specialties. Fresh meats, seafood, and poultry. Unique, hand-made pottery, jewelry and crafts from around the world. The hustle and bustle of a multitude of diverse people. It’s all here in Philadelphia’s historic farmers market, Reading Terminal Market. An exhilarating selection of baked goods, meats, poultry, seafood, produce, flowers, ethnic foods, cookware and eclectic restaurants are peppered throughout the Market.
I had actually heard of the Market as being the home to a couple of “must eat” places and, indeed the lines at both were outrageous the morning I visited:
But the market is so much more than that. It reminded me a little of the Adelaide Central Market which I visited last summer, small enough to not be overwhelming but large enough to provide a wide range of goods to make it a fascinating destination for the better part of a morning.
(The followingiInformation about the history of the Market is adapted and summarised from the very detailed “History” page on the website.)
Since the city’s establishment, markets have a been an important part of life in Philadelphia. In the city’s early days, there was a market along the Delaware River in the area known as High Street. This market expanded westward, eventually arriving at Market Street and continued to grow to the point where, in the middle of the 19th Century, the market was 6 blocks long. In 1859, however, the markets were dismantled after complaints about the health hazards they posed and the obstacles they created for traffic. Two new markets were created which would become the forerunners of what is now Reading Terminal Market, which opened its doors in 1892.
The then state-of-the-art Market was approximately 78,000 square feet holding nearly 800 spaces for merchants. The Market was laid out on a grid – similar to the streets of Philadelphia and had the biggest refrigeration facility in the city. A unique aspect of the Market was the free “basket service” on suburban trains. Taking advantage of the railroad involvement in the Market, suburban housewives could arrange for their grocery orders to be filled at the Market, the basket to be placed on a train bound for their towns and held at the station until they picked them up. Eventually, horse-drawn wagons gave way to refrigerated trucks and in the years after World War I, the Market provided delivery service every hour to around 60 suburban towns and resorts along the New Jersey shore.
The Depression was a difficult time for the Market and the railroad, however at the end of the 1930s, the market still boasted 10 of the original 1892 merchants. The market also came through World War II relatively unscathed, with 97% occupancy of the stalls in 1944. The 1960s were difficult years for the railroad company and the Market was affected by this when the cold storage facility was shut down and dismantled. The railroad company finally went into bankruptcy in 1971 and by 1976, the Reading was no longer operating as a railroad corporation. The late 70s and early 80s were especially difficult for the Market as it received little to no attention and the market dwindled. In 1985, the city’s commuter rail system was rerouted to bypass the Reading Terminal and the Pennsylvania Convention Centre Authority was created to acquire and convert the terminal into an entranceway for the new Convention Center. Philadelphians got on board and demanded that the Market receive some attention and rehabilitation. The Market revitalization began in the early 1990s.
Today, Reading Terminal Market is once again the gastronomic treasure trove it was originally planned to be. Two of the more than 80 merchants are descendants of the original standholders from 1892! Many historic stands survived reconstruction and the market is once again a thriving hub filled with local produce, dairy, meat, poultry, seafood, crafts, jewelry, clothing, and, of course, eateries. There really is something for everyone.
Candies, sweets, cakes, chocolates galore:
It is home to Bassett’s Ice Cream Company, a fifth generation family business and a Philadelphia tradition since 1861:
According to the Bassett’s website, in 1893, Lewis Dubois Bassett moved production of his ice cream to the newly built Reading Terminal Market. At the same time he also opened a retail store. The store that he opened is still in the same location in the Reading Terminal with the original marble counters and is still owned and operated by Lewis Dubois’ great-great grandsons Michael Strange and Roger Bassett.
There is also wonderful coffee and home made coffee cake from Old City Coffee Company – perfect to enjoy as you sit perched on a stool at one of the counters taking in all the gastronomic delights surrounding you!
Regular Hours of the Market
Monday through Saturday: 8:00 am–6:00 pm
Note: Some of the Market’s restaurants close after 5:00pm.
Sunday : 9:00 am–5:00 pm
NOTE: Not all merchants are open on Sundays. In general, about two-thirds of Market vendors open on Sundays, representing a good cross-section of merchandise categories. Pennsylvania Dutch vendors are not open on Sundays.
Pennsylvania Dutch Vendors
Wednesday 8:00 am–3:00 pm Thursday–Saturday 8:00 am–5:00 pm Closed Sunday
Please note that the Market is CLOSED on the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
51 North 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107-2954