Since January, people-watching has had some competition for the title of "Most Entertaining Thing to Do at Reading Terminal Market." That's when the monthly Movies at the Market dinner-and-a-screening series began. And what better time to report on this new and different way to experience the Market than Oscar week?
The series was inspired, in part, by the successful summer outdoor movie series Market manager Anuj Gupta started in his previous job as head of Mt. Airy USA. The hope, says Market marketing director Sarah Levitsky, is to attract people who can't get to the Market during the usual daytime hours or who need the added attraction of a film to get them in the door. "Plus we thought it would be fun," Levitsky said.
The inaugural schedule of five movies includes the food-focused Chef and Burnt, one movie partly shot in Reading Terminal (April 14's National Treasure) and the seasonally themed An Affair to Remember and Little Shop of Horrors (to coincide with Valentine's Day and the Flower Show, respectively).
Movies at the Market begins as the regular Market day ends at 6 p.m., when two big movie screens are set up at opposite ends of Center Court, with facing tables and chairs. About a dozen merchants remain open with abbreviated menus of sandwiches and snacks (including two kinds of popcorn). Merchants not located on Center Court -- such as Old City Coffee, Bassetts Ice Cream and the Pennsylvania General Store -- set up temporary stands on it.
Admission is free, and though event-goers are asked to sign up online ahead of time, walk-ins are also welcome. Entrance and check-in is by the Welcome Desk, just inside the 12th and Filbert corner of the Market.
Those entering at 6:15 p.m. for the second Movies at the Market event last Thursday found a comfortable, casual vibe, with music playing and people ordering food (small or no lines!), and people who already had their food eating, drinking and chatting with friends.
Karen Beeman and Megan Farley of South Philly were among about 150 people who ventured there on that frigid evening. Market first-timers, the couple came because featured film An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, "happens to be my favorite classic movie of all time," Beeman said before diving into her Molly Malloy's burger.
Fellow millennial Felicia Ramos invited friend Christina Russo to join her at Movies at the Market after learning about it from her husband. Ramos said she usually patronizes the Amish stands when she's in the Market. But with the Amish not open, both she and Russo were enjoying Hershel's sandwiches. "It's nice to try something new," Ramos said.
Russo liked the chill vibe. "Normally when I come to the Market, I'm bumping into people."
The event also attracted several tourists. Tommy Poole and his grandson, Ryan Chisholm, were eating cheesesteaks and doughnuts before heading down Filbert to catch a bus to Cleveland. Like them, Jane (who declined to give her second name) of Colorado found out about the movie while visiting the Market earlier in the day. Had she not, "I probably would have eaten at an expensive restaurant and watched TV," she said, between bites of a big chicken salad.
Nurses Nora Brennan, Andrea Blount and Maureen Bonnell made the event the locus of a long-delayed Christmas/birthday get-together. Explained Brennan: "It's was close to where we work, a unique event ..."
"Don't forget the food," Blount chimed in, to loud assents from her friends.
Meanwhile, several rows away, Market regular Carol Ruddick sat waiting for husband Jim to get back from the Down Home Diner with their sandwiches. She praised "the new manager for trying to bring really fun activities into the space. We also love the Kitchen. We went to one event there featuring Vedge. And we're coming to a chocolate one there this weekend."
And then, after a brief greeting from the just-lauded Gupta, the lights lowered and An Affair to Remember lit up the two screens.
For many in attendance, that title would also apply to their Movies at the Market evening.
The next Movies at the Market is on March 17 and features Little Shop of Horrors. It will be followed by National Treasure on April 14 and Burnt on May 12. Screenings start at 7 p.m. though you should get their earlier if you'd like to eat, drink and socialize before the lights go down. Food is pay-as-you-go and screenings are free, though pre-registration (at http://readingterminalmarket.ticketleap.com) is encouraged.
Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour (www.tasteofphillyfoodtour.com).