ABOUT PHILADELPHIA'S 9TH STREET ITALIAN MARKET
The oldest open-air market in the country, South Philadelphia's 9th Street Italian Market was established in the late 1800's by Southern Italian immigrants.
It continues to be the neighborhood's most popular destination for its many outdoor stands of fresh fruits and vegetables, for its purveyors of meats, cheeses, breads, and pastries, and for the wide variety of ethnic eateries. It is one of the most visited sites in Philadelphia by people from all over the world.
In its beginnings, the neighborhood was the favorite landing place of a large wave of Italian immigrants because of the availability of work in the many area factories, farms, and other industries. 9th Street's Palumbo's boarding house was central to their transition. The Palumbo family gave them a temporary home, found them work, and helped many find a permanent place nearby in which to live.
Italians and other immigrants saw the need to fill the food and other material needs of the increased neighborhood population, and started setting up businesses.
It was customary for vendors of produce and home goods to park their wheeled carts in front of their home, on a busy corner, or to wheel them around the neighborhood each day. Gradually, most vendors moved their activities from the side streets and alleys to the busier 9th St blocks. And as the number of cart vendors, sidewalk stands, and storefront businesses increased, the area became popularly known as the Italian Market.
Daily, starting before dawn, vendors pushed their wheeled carts a mile or more to Delaware Avenue, to procure their foodstocks and other goods from the ships docked between South Street and Washington Avenue, so they would be ready to re-sell them on 9th St when the day began. Lacking refrigeration, it was necessary to buy food provisions daily, and the Italian Market offered a convenient, centralized location and everything needed to prepare the day's meals, as well as clothing and other household goods.
The market developed steadily, changed to suit the times, and hit its full zenith in the 1960's. It became "Philly's supermarket", and a favorite tourist destination. There were 30 butcher shops and 23 fish stores, and the fruit, vegetable, and other stands extended uninterrupted from Wharton to Christian. Jewish people sold clothing, Greeks had spice stores, and Italians the rest, mostly.
The expansion of supermarkets and department stores, the closing of the clothing factories along Washington Ave, the steady withdrawal of homeowners to the suburbs, and many other factors made this mostly a weekend market, for a time. And the number of vendors shrank, until not so long ago.
Many reputable specialty stores and outdoor stands have withstood the test of time, and have thrived. New waves of immigrant have made the Market their home, adding color and unusual foods, filling the stores, stands and street carts. Groups of Koreans came first, then Vietnamese, Cambodians and Mexicans, among others. As it was when Italian immigrants started it, it's still a Market of immigrants.
The street carts still have wheels on them, canvas overhangs still protect them from sun and rain, and corrugated roofs still cover the sidewalks. Neon signs pervade storefront windows as they have for decades. Politicians still come out to talk to people along the sidewalk at election time, and celebrities still dart through the market stores regularly.
Products now come in trucks, from seaports, airports, and from places all over the world. The wide variety of authentic ethnic foods still abounds, and maintains the distinction and appeal that the 9th Street Italian Market has, to food lovers from everywhere.
The sidewalks are busy all day long with shoppers, and into the night with strolling diners, as the many quality eateries fill with patrons from near and far. Although frequented mostly by neighbors, it is still one of the main tourist destinations in Philadelphia.
The original Italian Market was located between Washington Ave and Christian St on 9th, extending onto nearby streets. With the natural expansion of stores and businesses over time, the Market is now generally considered to extend from Wharton to Fitzwater along 9th, and spilling onto nearby streets, with outdoor stands between Federal and Christian.
Most stores and stands are open all day Tuesday through Saturday, until about 5pm, and also on Sunday mornings. Most merchants still close on Mondays, as they have probably since the beginning of the Market. After all, with leftovers from the big traditional family Sunday dinners, no one needed to shop for food on Monday, so it became a day of rest. Cart vendors begin their day around 8:00 during the week, and 7:00 on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Some stores and most restaurants are open into the night hours.