A market of generations

In an era centered on the convenience of supermarkets, malls and department stores, it seems that small specialty shops are a thing of the past. But South Philly’s 9th Street Italian Market, the largest and oldest outdoor market in the United States, is as strong as it was 100 years ago. The most captivating feature of the market isn’t the secret ingredient in Grandma Continisio’s raviolis, but the history and lifestyle behind the stands. Many shops display photos on their walls from generations past.

Giordano’s Produce is one of the most historic stores on 9th Street. In 1921, after Vincent James Giordano was killed in World War I, the government gave the Giordano family money. This money was used to open their store at 1043 S. 9th St. Now, John Giordano runs the business with his son, Wally and his grandchildren.

“When I was a teenager, I moved boxes and drove the trucks along with my brothers and the girls usually did work inside,” said John, one of 14 children.

“When World War II broke out, the boys went off into the service and the girls took on most of that work.” Di Bruno Bros., located at 930 S. 9th St., is another of the market’s mainstays. In business
since 1939, Di Bruno Bros. specializes in olive oil and cheeses.

It offers products from all over the world, carrying more cheeses than imaginable. “At a given time, we have about 250 kinds of cheese on the floor and a rotating stock of about 1000.

Around the holidays, we have closer to 500 types for sale,” said Hunter Fike, a store employee.

Di Bruno Bros. has also expanded, opening a store named Pronto, located at 9th and Montrose streets – which offers quality food served fast for those on a lunch break – as well as a store near Rittenhouse Square and an online mail-order service.

As the Market modernized, several variety stores opened. These include flower shops and Molly’s Bookstore, which sells used books – many for under $5. There are also several cafes, including the new Rim French Cafe at 9th and Federal streets at the end of the market.

The cafe is open until 1 a.m. and offers free wireless Internet service.

Though older-generation Italians might want to keep the market Italian-owned, its new stores provide more variety for customers. So whether you want to enjoy coffee, pig out on pizza and steak, or watch vendors trying to re-enact the training scene from “Rocky,” there’s more than enough to explore at the Italian Market.

Stu Jerue can be reached at stujerue@temple.edu.

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