Engaging business diversity at Italian Market

The 9th Street Stock Exchange encourages local businesses to showcase each other’s items.

Among the bouquets she was preparing to sell, Cookie Cilibti, the owner of Betty Ann’s Italian Market Florist, kept a disco light from Casanova Music Center in her store last week.

“I love this project,” Cilibti said. “My customers are confused when they see the disco light, but I like explaining to them what 9th Street Stock Exchange is all about.”

The art exhibit, funded by the Mural Arts Program, is a rotation of products among eight different businesses within the Italian Market on 9th Street near Christian in Bella Vista. Jon Rubin, a South Philadelphia-based artist, and Theresa Rose, the project curator and a 1998 art education alumna, introduced the exhibit to the market in mid-October.

The goal, Rubin said, is to encourage businesses to interact with one another while recognizing and celebrating diversity.

This project will run through Dec. 7.

Some of the business involved in this art project range from Molly’s Books & Records, which sells rare and dated books and records, to Betty Ann’s Italian Market Florist, to a business called Alejandra Boutique Inc., which sells Colombian-made jeans.

By the end of the two months, each participating business will have sold each other’s products.

“Each business recognizes that they are selling on someone else’s behalf,” Rubin said. “What has emerged is a unique ecosystem that offers a collaboration of culture and products.”

As the project curator, Rose said she works on the floor and regularly interacts with the eight businesses.

“Each store is definitely excited to sell each other’s products,” she said.

“9th Street Stock Exchange mixes up the everyday,” Rose added. “It has encouraged the shop owners to meet other shop owners.”

Molly Russakoff, who owns Molly’s Books & Records, made room among her classic books for necklaces from Chocolate Arts & Crafts. She said the project has been a nice break from her day-to-day responsibilities.

“Everyone is so focused on their business,” she said. “It’s nice to connect with the other owners.”

Since it was founded in the late 19th century, the 9th Street Italian Market has featured primarily Italian businesses. There is still an Italian presence on the north side of the market, but in recent years, the market has seen a growing population of Spanish businesses and on the south side, Rubin said. The cultural diversity at the market is what inspired Rubin to introduce his project.

Now, Rubin said he thinks the 9th Street Stock Exchange could be implemented on a larger scale.

“We are working on a project that will be funded by the Guggenheim that is based on similar premises in New York City,” Rubin said.

Cilibti said the project has helped her recognize the diversity of her neighboring businesses and the products they sell.

“We are so much more than just the Italian Market we used to be,” Cilibti said.

Patrick Bilow can be reached at patrick.timothy.bilow@temple.edu.

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