Philadelphia’s Italian Market has long been one of the city’s most beloved neighborhoods, even before it was featured in Rocky Balboa’s training montage. Huddled on Ninth Street between Wharton and Fitzwater streets, the Italian Market is the largest outdoor market in the United States.
Just make sure to stop by the market early enough during the week to check out the shops, as many of the old-school family businesses close by 5 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on weekends.
The market features goods from more than 100 merchants, so there’s something to suit every person’s tastes. Giordano’s Produce is one of the most recognizable storefronts in the Italian Market and sells fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world. There are seven merchants who specialize in meat and game, including D’Angelo Bros. Meat Market, which has operated for more than 70 years. When prime beef gets boring, D’Angelo Bros. also offers fresh ostrich, alligator and kangaroo by the pound, along with other exotic game. Their meat is free of any fillers, preservatives or artificial coloring, Giordano said.
Because of its close proximity to the Delaware waterfront, the Italian Market hosts a wide range of seafood merchants, including the famous Anastasi family, who have sold seafood for more than 40 years.
“Our great-grandfather Thomas Anastasi came over from Sicily at age 13,” the Anastasi family writes on its Web site. “It started out with our grandfather selling fish off a cart that he pushed throughout the South Philadelphia streets while he sang out to the neighbors about all of his fresh, live products.”
Sabrina’s Cafe is another colorful spot in the Italian Market. Rated “excellent” by the Zagat Survey for four years in a row, this BYOB establishment is set against the backdrop of vintage Italian Philly but has a distinctly bohemian feel on the inside. More intriguing than their cozy dining area is the menu, which is vegetarian-friendly and offers a large selection of breakfast and dinner entrees, including sharp cheddar and apple omelets, polenta cheese fries and caramelized challah French toast.
Gleaner’s Cafe is part punk rock, part art house and all Philadelphia. The appeal of Gleaner’s is its minimalist design, which uses skateboards and local artwork as interior decoration. Flyers from past BYOB parties boast of zombies, gambling and Misfits songs played loud.
While third- and fourth-generation businesses comprise some of the Italian Market, the area is adapting to attract a new generation of technology-savvy hipsters by creating a niche that can’t be duplicated online.
“The Internet is taking a big chunk out of business – people can buy online or just get their information different ways,” said Molly Rusakoff, a third-generation bookseller and owner of Molly’s Bookstore. “What happens with most people is that they shift their business to Internet-based book selling, but that’s not really what I got into it for. I like the old social aspect of it.” Instead, Rusakoff has turned to the artistic community to gain publicity and new customers. “I’ve been hosting a lot of artistic events,” she said. “I’ve had reading and special events twice a week and now I’m having events a few times a month.”
Rusakoff also said that she is in the process of making Molly’s a center for homeschooling children, so many of her recent readings have focused on childhood education. True to the notion of our country being a “Melting Pot,” Rusakoff said that waves of Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are also permeating the culture of the Italian Market. “People don’t realize that there are still a lot of Italians here as well,” she said. “When I first came here [20 years ago], there were a lot of Asians, and in the last five years, there are a lot of Hispanics, and it’s all kind of layering to make the Italian Market really international.”
There is a smaller Asian Market located on Sixth Street and Washington Avenue, just a few blocks before the Italian Market. Popping up around the Asian Market are clusters of bodegas.
Well, imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Jimmy Viola can be reached at email@example.com.
In The Know…
909 S. Ninth St.
910 Christian St.
917 S. Ninth St.
The Italian Market is located on South Ninth Street between Wharton and Fitzwater streets.