Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market

Market Blog

A blog about what's happening at Reading Terminal Market.

“Gluten-Free Fair Fun at the Market’s New Fox & Son,” By Carolyn Wyman


It’s a little early in the year for a Shore boardwalk stroll or county fair excursion but you can go there gastronomically right now at the Market’s new Fox & Son.


It’s the first gourmet corn dog restaurant in Philly, if not the world, and the only stand in the Market to be totally gluten-free.


You might expect the owners of a stand featuring corn dogs, cheese curds and poutine to come from the Midwest or Quebec, where these kinds of fair foods are king. But it was actually more of a strategic decision by co-owners Rebecca Foxman and Zeke Ferguson, both Pennsylvania natives formerly of the Market’s Valley Shepherd cheese stand, and Foxman’s former culinary school classmate, Kevin Kwan, originally of Seattle. (The stand name is a portmanteau word formed from Foxman and Ferguson’s last names.)


“We didn’t want to compete with what other vendors were selling,” Foxman explained. “We also wanted to make things that were easy to produce in large quantities with high quality.”


Quality? Corn dogs? That phrase might seem oxymoronic if your only experience of this food is from the supermarket freezer case (quite possible, if you’ve always lived on the East Coast). But Foxman says people who have enjoyed fresh-made ones at county fairs who stumble on the stand squeal with delight.


Anyone who has enjoyed one of the grilled cheese sandwiches at Valley Shepherd’s MeltKraft stand-within-a-stand has already experienced Foxman’s ability to elevate a humble dish. Fox & Son does this for corn dogs with Dietz & Watson (pork and beef), Hebrew National (kosher), Kunzler (turkey) or Lightlife (tofu) franks but also with sauces and add-ins not found at the typical fair corn dog stand. The Sweet Potato corn dog has real mashed sweet potato incorporated into the corn batter. The cheese in the housemade queso sauce adorning the Cheddar Jalapeno dog has been aged for three years.


These are two survivors from a spreadsheet of more than 40 corn dog ideas and recipes the partners tested and/or discussed. (One corn dog incorporating scrapple got scratched because of preparation difficulties; a fish-sauce-containing Asian corn dog loved by all three partners was deemed too esoteric to sell big, though Ferguson says it may yet show up on the menu as a special).


Although it’s rare to see corn dogs or funnel cakes on a local restaurant menu, they’re familiar to many locals. Not so cheese curds, which require more explanation, says Foxman. She compares them to mozzarella sticks: “If you like fried mozzarella sticks, you’ll probably like fried cheese curds.” Custom-made for them by Chester Springs’ Birchrun Hills Farm, the curds are also sold fresh by the pound and atop hand-cut French fries with gravy to make the classic Canadian poutine.


The cheeseburger fries (topped with ground beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and the Big Mac-like sauce Royale) sell even better.


Also on the menu: chili, funnel cakes, fresh-squeezed lemonade, organic soda, and cole slaw. The latter is a peanut-butter-containing style Foxman fell in love with while on a food scouting trip to the Texas State Fair in the fall. But Foxman’s menu favorite are fries topped with ranch powder. Despite their simplicity or perhaps because of it, they’re “very addictive,” Foxman says.


Fox & Son is not the only Market stand with hand-cut fries (Dutch Eating Place, Down Home Diner and Molly Malloy’s are others) but it is the only stand where they’re guaranteed to be gluten-free (because they are made in a dedicated gluten-free fryer). This has made Fox & Son a magnet for celiac sufferers, who have comprised as many as half of the stand’s early customers.


“We’ve actually seen tears,” says Foxman, not of dissatisfaction but of joy from people who for the first time since their diagnosis, see the whole world of fried food opening up to them once again.


Fox & Son, Avenue C and 4th Avenue, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun., 215-372-7935,


Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour (

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“Mardi Gras Celebrating the Big Easy Way with Beck's Cajun Café,” by Carolyn Wyman


This is the time of year when most Market merchants catch their breath after the busy holiday season.


But for Bill Beck of Beck’s Cajun Cafe, Christmas and New Year’s are just the ramp-up to the equally busy Mardi Gras time.


Between the retail business at Beck’s stands at Reading Terminal and 30th Street Station and catering Mardi Gras parties, February 2016 was “totally crazy,” Beck recalls.

The week preceding this February 28 promises to be equally crazy, if not crazier, due to several Fat Tuesday promotions.


First are his King Cakes, a Mardi Gras specialty yeast bread tradition at Beck’s and elsewhere that are flavored with cinnamon and decorated with colorful icing named for the kings who delivered gifts to the baby Jesus. The sheet-size version of this cake must be ordered ahead and contains a hidden plastic baby Jesus. (New Orleans tradition dictates that the baby finder is king and must host next year’s Mardi Gras party.)


This year Beck’s stand is also offering Mardi Gras party bags by pre-order featuring a mini king cake, a wedge of muffaletta and New Orleans brands of potato chips and root beer for $10.95.


Beck will also be helping Mardi Gras party do-it-yourselfers with a free demonstration on how to make gumbo (and the roux at its base) in City Kitchen on Saturday, February 11, at 11:30 a.m.


The Market’s expert on New Orleans’ cuisine is actually a Long Island, N.Y., native who  traces his love of Cajun and Creole cooking to road trips to the South he took with his grandparents as a kid. Beck also notes how New Orleans cuisine is a mix of French, Spanish and Italian, “or pretty much all the important cooking traditions” he’s used in his long career as a chef.


That career includes stints at Steve Poses’ Frog Commissary as well as his own Pompano Grille on Fifth and Bainbridge, a 1990s-era Cuban restaurant which earned Beck several Best of Philly awards from Philadelphia Magazine and two invitations to cook at New York’s prestigious James Beard House.


Is it any wonder, then, why Market management was receptive to his 2009 pitch for a New Orleans-themed stand?


Within three years, Beck’s Cajun Cafe had won a Best of Philly magazine award for  Sandwiches in Reading Terminal Market -- impressive considering all the wonderful sandwich competition in the Market.


The award specifically referenced Beck’s po boys, muffaletta (like an Italian hoagie but with a spicy olive topping) and signature Train Wreck, featuring andouille sausage, salami, Creole mayo and Cajun spices in addition to the traditional cheesesteak’s bread, meat and cheese, and which Beck boastfully describes as “what a cheesesteak wants to be when it grows up.”


Other stand best-sellers include giant fried balls filled with mac and cheese, the jambalaya and perhaps surprisingly, alligator gumbo (whether as a dare-me food or because people like the slightly sweet, slightly gamey taste of its alligator sausage, Beck isn’t sure). And he says nobody doesn’t like his bread pudding. Or, he clarifies, “Even people who don’t like bread pudding love [its] vanilla whiskey sauce.”


The all-star menu is the result of trial and error. Boudin (rice and pork) sausage, barbecue shrimp and whole crawfish boil are some past stand flops: the shrimp because the traditional New Orleans barbecue shrimp recipe he made had white sauce when Philadelphians were expecting something closer to what's used at The Rib Stand; the crawfish, he thinks, because of its “mud bug” rap (all he knows is that he was laboriously picking the meat from those critters and serving it in pasta salad, etouffee and po boys for days).


Not that Beck is through experimenting. After Mardi Gras, the cafe will undergo both a decor and menu “freshening”: Food additions will include a short rib po boy which Beck describes as an “upscale take on New Orleans’ famous debris” or beef roast ends, sandwich. New for breakfast are omelets (with or without gumbo topping) and brioche French toast topped with a praline sauce.


As for what he will be doing on Mardi Gras: If he’s as busy this year as last,  “Probably nothing. Definitely not partying,” he says.

Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour (

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“Winging Your Way Around the Market in Time for the Big Game,” by Carolyn Wyman

Chicken wings were one of the cheapest things sold at Godshall's poultry stand when it opened in the Market in 1916. At that time and for many decades afterward, people only bought chicken wings to make stock or to feed animals, if they bought them at all.

Now chicken wings are among the priciest parts of the chicken at Godshall's and anywhere else chicken wings are sold, all because a Buffalo, N.Y., bar ran low on food one night in 1964 and decided to try serving chicken wings with hot sauce. Hence the wildly popular Buffalo wing appetizer was born.

That's why you can now not only buy fresh chicken wings at Godshall's and Guinta's in the Market but also already cooked ones for lunch or dinner or parties at Dienner's, Franks A-Lot and Keven Parker's. Sales of wings rise during the fall football season and the holidays but fly out of the Market in the days leading up to Super Bowl Sunday (i.e. right now).

Dienner's only sold whole rotisserie chickens when the stand opened in the Market in 1980.  Its first wings -- also rotisseried -- followed two years later and soon became best-sellers. Wings now account for about three-quarters of stand sales.


"They're portable. That's the way people eat today," explains third-generation family owner Anthony Dienner. About 60 percent of Dienner's wings' business come from only two flavors: the original rotisserie and the smoked (Anthony's personal favorite). The rotisserie are flavored with both a dry rub and a wet sauce before being cooked for about two hours. The smoked sit overnight in a dry coating before being cooked in a smoker containing hickory chips for a similar long time.

Fried and the spicy ranch-flavored San Antonio round out Dienner's whole wing menu. The Thai chili is the most popular of three party-style fried half wings the stand introduced alongside Memphis sweet and honey Buffalo just four months ago.

As its name implies, Franks A-Lot mainly sold hot dogs when it opened in 1982. But it probably should be called Wings A-Lot based on sales cited by employee-turned-owner Russell Black.


Franks A-Lots' first wing was honey barbecue. Introduced in 1991, it's still the stand's most popular. Franks A-Lot cook Lana Santoso says they go through 1,200 pounds of wings a week to make this flavor alone. The wing is baked in a confection oven then seared on a stovetop "to enhance the barbecue flavor," Black says.

Their fried and Buffalo wings are Santoso inventions, introduced within the last four years. The fried are redolent of garlic and reminiscent of the salt and pepper wings popular in nearby Chinatown. The Buffalo is really a Buffalo/barbecue sauce hybrid and so only mildly spicy.

As at Dienner's, you can buy Franks A-Lots wings by the pound or as part of platters with sides, including, in Franks A-Lot's case, the unexpected salted cabbage and the Black-lauded cornbread. Cornbread is, in fact, only one of two side dishes regularly featured in the spiffy display case that tempts Reading Terminal Shoppers walking down Avenue C.

Food Network personality Robert Irvine called Keven Parker's fried chicken wings (not to mention his fried chicken thighs, breasts and drumsticks) "the best thing I ever ate" on the food channel's show of the same name in 2012. Irvine praised the chicken's "salty crispiness and spiciness" as well as its "juicy, soft flesh." Based on owner Keven Parker's grandmother's recipe, the chicken marinates in a spicy wet sauce, then is coated in seasoned flour before deep-frying. The wings are sold as part of a meal dish with one side, or per piece.


The Market also offers help for wing do-it-yourselfers.

The aforementioned Godshall's carries whole chicken wings in two sizes: the jumbo ones many grocers carry as well as smaller fryer ones co-owner Dean Frankenfield gets from a farm in Maryland that many of his customers covet. On the other hand are the sizeable minority of Godshall's patrons who prefer to make their game day appetizers with whole turkey wings. Godshall's will cut any of these wings to order for free.

Guinta's sells both whole and cut (into "party-size" flats and drumettes) fresh wings but also 4-pound packages of wings marinated in Buffalo sauce. Just take and bake. The "boneless wings" sold at most butcher stands and restaurants are actually refashioned chicken breast meat but for special occasions like the Super Bowl, Guinta's actually debones chicken wings and fills the resulting cavity with either prosciutto and Italian spices or blue cheese and hot sauce to create a unique appetizer that stand owner Rob Passio says "taste phenomenal."

Passio gets the hot and wing sauces he uses from Market merchants and so can you.

Condiment's fresh-made sauce offerings include the traditional Buffalo as well as several styles of barbecue. In addition, stand owner Elizabeth Halen says her rosemary-heavy Italian, hot, spicy sweet chili and peanut sauces could make "excellent, nontraditional wing flavorings."

If you're looking for a hot sauce to plug into a Buffalo wing sauce recipe, the shelf behind the cash registers at The Head Nut are lined with dozens of varieties. That stand also carries Wing It, Stubb's, Hoboken Eddies, Guy Fieri and (the beer-containing) Yuengling brands of dedicated wing sauces. Jonathan Best stocks Cholula, Crystal and Frank's hot sauces (the latter was reportedly used on the original Anchor Bar Buffalo wings) as well as Moore's Alabama steakhouse wing sauces.

If you're trying to figure out amounts of wings to buy for a party: Market wing sellers generally agree that you will need 4 to 8 whole wings per person if no other hearty appetizers are served; and 2 to 3 per person if the wings are just one of several meat offerings on the table. (Double that if you're buying half-size party wings.)

As for cooking tips: Franks A-Lot's Black recommends making your own wing sauce, like he does. "It's not that difficult and you'll know what's in it." To achieve the "crispy skin and moist interior everyone wants" in a home oven, Anthony Dienner recommends starting out at a low temperature and increasing it later. "If you turn it too high too fast they will dry out." He also recommends "adding moisture in any way you can" -- like putting a tray of water on a low rack.

For those who need more precise instructions: Halen will be posting wing recipes at Condiment Super Bowl week. Or pick up Wing It!, a cookbook of "flavorful chicken wings, sauces and sides," by Robert Quintana at The Cookbook Stall. Or go to

for what is probably the most popular wings recipe now on the Internet.

Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour (

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MLK Day of Service

MLK Volunteers long

Reading Terminal Market would like to thank everyone who helped make our MLK Day of service a huge success! We were able to make 2500 sandwiches for volunteers at Girard College. 

Thank you to our volunteers:

American Board of Internal Medicine
Global Citizens
Liberty Communications Services


Thank you to the vendors who donated all of the food items needed:

Beck's Cajun Cafe
Carmen's Famous Hoagies & Cheesesteaks
Dienner's Bar-B-Q Chicken
Down Home Diner
Dutch Eating Place
Hatville Deli
Halteman Family Country Food
Head Nut
Hershel's East Side Deli
Iovine Brothers Produce
Jonathan Best Gourmet Grocer 
Olympia Gyro
Pearl's Oyster Bar
Spataro's Cheesesteaks
Tootsie's Salad Express


Thank you for the in-kind donations from:

City Kitchen
Foods Galore

 MLK action

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$4 Parking: An Instructional Video

We know parking around The Market isn't always easy. That's why we made a video to show how easy it can be! 
Click on the image below to view the instructional video and learn how to park for just $4! 

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A New Year & New Ways to Experience Shopping At RTM!

New Shopping Experience Blog



We’ve made many changes and updates in the past year to help make your shopping experience at Reading Terminal Market easier and more exciting. Below are a few things we hope you take advantage of in this new year!


$4 Parking

We partner up with two garages to offer $4 parking for up to two hours! Bring your parking garage ticket into The Market with you and get it validated by any merchant when you spend at least $10. When you go to pay for parking, your cost will be reduced to $4! No need to hassle with finding an open parking space and paying a meter while you do your grocery shopping! We’ve got you covered! After two hours regular parking rates apply. The two garages' locations are listed below:

Hilton Garage (located at 11th & Arch Streets)

Parkway Garage (located on 12th and Filbert Streets)


FREE Shopping Bag Concierge

Arms tired? Let us hold your bags for you while you continue to shop around The Market, or feel free to explore the city bag free!

On Saturdays from 9 am - 6 pm, and Sundays from 10 am - 5 pm we offer refrigerated and dry storage for your purchased items. The best part is- it’s completely free! The Shopping Bag Concierge is located behind The Head Nut. Be sure to ask the Concierge about Saturday curbside pickup!


FREE Recipe Cards

Located in Center Court next to the statue of Philbert the Pig you’ll find an array of seasonal recipe cards that we encourage you to pick up. The cards include the necessary ingredients for each recipe, which vendors you can find those ingredients at within The Market, and a step-by-step recipe to make these delicious dishes! We’ll be changing out the cards seasonally, so be sure to check back often.


Ask the Experts on Facebook LIVE

On Fridays at 10:30 am we’re LIVE on Facebook with a different expert merchant each week. We have a conversation with the lead expert of each store and highlight how they contribute to the uniqueness and diversity of The Market, as well as their expertise in their particular products. We encourage viewers to ask questions live during the interview and we can answer them as the conversation progresses. If you’re busy at 10:30 am on Fridays, no problem! The videos live on our Facebook wall and can be viewed at any time.   


FREE Chef Tours: Shopping with Chef Tess

Every 1st & 3rd Saturdays learn how to optimize The Market for the ultimate grocery shopping experience! Chef Tess takes you around The Market and highlights merchants & food items that are relevant to your interests. Learn how to pick and prepare meals using your favorite foods. Be sure to show up a little early, as tours are first come first serve. Meet in front of City Kitchen, tours starts at 10 am (located next to the Rick Nichols Room & The Head Nut.)


FREE Tasting Thursdays

Every Thursday from 12:00  – 1:00 pm visit City Kitchen (located next to the Rick Nichols Room & The Head Nut) and join Chef Tess for a free sample of the specially picked food of the day. Each week will feature samplings of products from a different merchant. Past Tasting Thursdays have included items such as  house-made pâté, leg of lamb, crab salad, seasonal winter soups, and spiralized vegetables. 

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December Daystalls

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December is underway, and that means you're probably looking for the *perfect* gifts for your loved ones. You're in luck this season! We have 7 vendors selling their wares now through the end of December. Below is a list of who, where, & when they will be selling within the Market.

Happy Shopping!


Acadia Antlers - selling natural treats for your dog

Located: Center Court, across from Spataro's

Days: Dec. 16, 17, 23 & 24

Birdie's Biscuits - selling homemade biscuits, made with butter from the Market's full-time merchant Condiment

Located: Center Court, across from Condiment

Days: Wednesdays and Thursdays

Clay Place - selling ornaments and other decorations

Located: Center Court, across from Philbert the Pig

Days: Monday-Sunday

Eight Oaks Distillery - local distiller near Allentown selling spirits distilled from the grains they grown on their own farm

Located: Center Court, across from Flying Monkey Bakery

Days: Thursdays, Fridays & Sundays

MacGregor Art - selling cards, wrapping paper and other items printed with the artists' own Philly-centric designs

Located: Center Court, across from Philbert the Pig (normally located in Piano Court)

Days: Fridays

Paprika Letterpress - selling the designer's notecards and greeting cards printed on a letterpress

Located: Center Court, across from The Original Turkey (normally located in Piano Court)

Days: Saturdays

Russ Brown Photography - selling the photographer's own photos, printed in both small and large formats

Located: Center Court, across from Hershel's East Side Deli

Days: Thursday-Sunday


Reading Terminal Market Logo

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Winter Recipe Cards

We’re very passionate about food here at the Market. We’ve put together 14 delicious recipes cards that utilize the fresh ingredients that can be found at various merchants throughout the Market. The cards include the ingredient lists, which stores the products can be found in, as well as the recipes on the back of the card. We’ll be changing these recipes seasonally to reflect and highlight some of the best of what the Market has to offer at specific times of year.  The cards can be found, for free, in our recipe rack- located in Center Court, next to Philbert the Pig. Below are a few of the great recipes that are currently available.

Happy cooking!

Baked Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes, Herbs, & Lemon

ChickenTomatoHerbLemon2 BLOG


Easy French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup BLOG


Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup blog


Sweet Potato Spoonbread

SweetPotatoSpoonbread BLOG

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Call to Artists: Redesign of Filbert Street at the Reading Terminal Market




Reading Terminal Market is one of Philadelphia’s most lively and diverse public places and yet patrons step outside from warmth and vitality to a forbidding street, Filbert Street. Reading Terminal Market has received an ArtPlace grant to create a design vision and space management plan to transform Filbert Street, the underpass that connects the Market with a transit hub (SEPTA’s Jefferson station) into an inviting space for events and performances.  The Reading Terminal Market has commissioned Ex;it Design Firm to create a design scheme with street improvements for the space.

In addition to an overall redesign of Filbert Street, RTM aims to commission one artist or artist team to create a site-specific exterior artwork for Filbert Street. Local Philadelphia artists, as well as artists who reside within the Greater Philadelphia area, are invited to submit their qualifications for an opportunity to create a proposal for Filbert Street.

If selected from the first round, artists will receive a stipend, meet with the RTM staff, board and design team, research the site and present site-specific proposals for Filbert Street (timeline below).


Founded in 1892, the Reading Terminal Market is widely recognized as one of the premiere public markets in the United States.  It is open seven days a week, 358 days each year, with over 80 independent small merchants from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Market patrons are diverse in age, ethnicity, race, and income.  With 6.3 million patrons each year, Reading Terminal Market is downtown Philadelphia’s most popular destination.  The majority of Market patrons—approximately 70%-- live in or near Philadelphia. The remaining 30% are visitors to Philadelphia, many of whom are attending events at the Pennsylvania Convention Center located literally across the street.  The Market is a popular venue for lunch for City workers and City residents on jury duty, and an after-school hangout for students at one of the 11 public, charter and Diocesan schools within easy walking distance.  It is the primary source for fresh food for a large, low-income constituency and is one of the Commonwealth’s busiest sites for the redemption of SNAP vouchers (“food stamps.”)  It has more broadly served as the shopping destination of choice for generations of families residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Reading Terminal Market is first and foremost a public market, with a century-old mission of providing fresh, local food.  At the same time, the Market also serves the cultural, recreation and civic needs of a heterogeneous population. The mission of the tax-exempt corporation that oversees the Market is:

         To preserve the architectural and historical character and function of the Reading Terminal market as an urban farmers’ market;

         To provide a wide variety of raw and prepared food brought to a public market in the center of the city by farmers, growers, producers and chefs;

         To maintain an environment that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of our citizens and foster their interaction;

         To strengthen the historic link and mutual dependency of our rural and urban communities.

The Reading Terminal Market seeks to commission exterior site-specific public artwork along Filbert Street as part of the redesign of Filbert Street. Goals of the revitalization of Filbert Street include: highlighting the entryway to the Market, creating a welcoming and exciting public space, connecting to the community, activating the space and eliciting response, and beautifying the neighborhood.  

There are not yet limitations as to material or form although the artwork must be permanent (last up to 15 years) and site-specific and abide with all constraints of the space (more information to be provided to selected artists). A budget has not yet been allocated for this commission but may range from $100,000 – $350,000. Budget will be inclusive of all artist(s) fees, insurance, fabrication, installation, travel, and all other project-related expenses.  


Submit CV, brief statement of interest as well as images of their work

  • Submit 6-8 images that best represent your previous work. If applicable, include work that demonstrates your ability to produce outdoor and/or site-specific work.
  • Artists’ statement not to exceed one page.  
  • CV not to exceed more than 2 pages.
  • Artists/ artists team may provide website if applicable.
  • Email the above information to Theresa Rose at

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. via a file-sharing program such as Dropbox ( or Hightail (


  • December 23, 2016- submit CV, images and statement
  • Early January 2017- selected artists notified

(For selected artists/ teams from the RFQ round)

  • Pre-proposal Meeting late January 2017
  • Mid February- Electronically submit proposal and visual support materials  
  • Late February 2017- artists present proposals in person
  • Early March 2017- artists notified

Artwork will be selected on the basis of creativity, artistic merit, technical proficiency, and relationship to the site.  Long-term maintenance, durability, and public safety concerns will be major selection criteria. Artists are required to comply with applicable rules, contracts, and procedures of the Reading Terminal Market.

The Reading Terminal Market reserves the right not to accept any of the proposals submitted.

Reading Terminal Market 

12th & Arch Streets

General Manager, Anuj Gupta

Art Consultant, Theresa Rose



 Design for Filbert


Above images:

  1. Reading Terminal Market, Filbert Street to the right of signage below overpass
  2. Filbert Street
  3. EX;IT Design team plans (proposed)
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"Thanksgiving Traditions at Reading Terminal Market," by Michael Holahan


At 7:30 am inside the Reading Terminal Market on the day before Thanksgiving there is a mad dash of activity.  The green grocers are frantically stacking mounds of collard greens, yams, and onions.  Butchers are icing down freshly killed turkeys and the Pennsylvania Dutch bakers are wondering if they’ve made too few or too many pumpkin pies this year.  For many of the 80 merchants inside this over 100 year old public market in downtown Philadelphia today is the busiest day of the year.

Outside customers sip coffee provided by Market management as they wait for the Market to open.  To pass the time, they map out their strategies for getting their shopping done as quickly as possible.  Traditional wisdom holds that you save the heaviest purchases, like turkeys and potatoes, for last, for in this bustling 2-acre public market, jammed full with all manner of fresh and prepared foods, there are no shopping carts or centralized checkout.  If, however, you save your turkey purchase until the end of your shopping list, thus avoiding carrying a 20lb bird around for an hour, you may find your favorite butcher surrounded by an impenetrable wall of customers.

At 8:00, as the doors open, the planning stops and the shopping frenzy begins.  Couples split up to divide and conquer the shopping list with a promised rendezvous for blueberry pancakes or croissants.  As the line at Termini’s Bakery slows to a crawl, good natured patrons start folding the bakery boxes to help speed the process.  As the customers move like hordes of locusts through mounds of produce, workers hustle to restock and replenish the ravaged displays.  The ticket machine at Godshall’s Poultry completes the first circuit of 001 to 100 and back again.  The game is definitely afoot.

In the midst of all this, of harried buying and selling, there is a sense of collegiality.  Customers share and debate cooking tips and shopping secrets.  “Do you brine your turkey?” “Of course.”  “Where do I buy lemon zest?”  “You don’t buy it; you get it from peeling or zesting a lemon a lemon.”  “Oh thanks.”  And despite the pressure to finish waiting on one customer to get to the ones that are waiting, merchants make the time to quickly trade milestones with customers: birthdays, funerals, weddings, etcetera.  For customers and shopkeepers alike, today is part business and part family reunion.

At Godshall’s Poultry, the staff works feverishly to keep up with the demand for locally raised, freshly killed turkeys, sage sausage for stuffing, and bacon for the weekend.  In between calling out the next number in line or asking “can I get you anything else today?” they pause to advise a nervous first-time Thanksgiving hostess on the ins and outs of cooking the perfect turkey.  “Cook it at 350 degrees, 14-15 minutes a pound.  If it’s stuffed, you want an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  You’ll want to use a meat thermometer.  You can buy one down the aisle at the kitchen store.  You’re welcome.  Good luck.  Number 88.”  The next day, if all goes according to plan, a beaming young woman will take a bow for serving a Thanksgiving masterpiece and a lifelong customer will be born.  It is in these moments that they keys to the Reading Terminal Market’s longevity can be found.  For in this exchange of money for merchandise, there is also something more personal and less transactional going on.  What happens here day in and day out is not complicated; in fact it is simple, simple and very, very hard to do.

Many of today’s customers first discovered the Market as children brought here by parents or grandparents.  No doubt overwhelmed by the crazy quilt of sights, sounds, and smells of the place, they quickly learned the value of patience.  For after being dragged from stall to stall seeking the freshest meat or ripest tomatoes, there was always the hope of a dish of Bassetts Ice Cream.  Today they return as prodigal sons and daughters of the Market, having moved out to the suburbs away from the row homes where they or their parents were raised.  They find themselves drawn back to the city, foregoing supermarkets offering free turkeys to shop in this place where food is not so much a commodity but a central part of someone’s life work.  It’s not a sign of unoriginality that leads the shopkeepers to name their stores for themselves, Giunta’s Prime Shop, Bassetts Ice Cream, Beiler’s Bakery, etcetera, but rather a sense of pride in the foods they grow, prepare, and sell.

For those travelling some distance, perhaps the trip to the Reading Terminal Market is not a necessary evil to find what they need to prepare Thanksgiving dinner.  The trip itself is an essential part of the Thanksgiving experience; it is the quest that reminds them that preparing and sharing food with the ones they love is a sacred experience.  Perhaps today includes the initiation of a young family member into the hurly burly of the Reading Terminal Market, making them part of a tradition that stretches back to 1892, when the Reading Terminal Market first opened its doors to the public, a tradition that hopefully includes a dish of Bassetts Ice Cream.

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Michael Holahan, who co-owned the Pennsylvania General Store with his wife Julie and twice served as president of the Reading Terminal Market Merchants' Association, passed away suddenly on March 16, 2016.  Michael penned this piece in 2011, and it has been our tradition to share it every year since.  This year, we share it in his memory.

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