Reading Terminal Market: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
World-renowned as an enclosed public market, Reading Terminal Market is conveniently located in downtown Philadelphia. The market is situated in a complex of buildings formally known as the Reading Terminal Train Station, occupying the basement and ground floor of the building underneath the old train shed. The market is organized in grid system spanning 78,000 square feet (1.7 acres) and is home to 76 independent small merchants. All of the merchants are locally based, selling fresh foods, groceries, prepared meals, and merchandise. The market is easily accessible to residents and tourists via public transit facilities, including nearby rail stations, seven subway and trolley lines, bus stops, a Greyhound bus terminal, and over 50 bike racks on the perimeter sidewalks.
Bounded by 12th Street, Arch Street, 11th Street, and Filbert Street in Center City Philadelphia.
In 1890, the Reading Railroad decided to build a train depot, passenger station, and company headquarters on the corner of 12th and Market Streets. The location was occupied by a 30-year-old open-air market, and the railroad bought the land for $1 million. Construction began in 1891, and the Reading Terminal Market opened on February 23, 1892, in a portion of the new Reading Railroad Train Station. The station opened on January 29, 1893, and at the time the train shed was one of the largest single-span arched-roof structures in the world.
The market thrived as one of Philadelphia's leading sources of foodstuffs and provisions until after World War II, when urban decline, depopulation, suburbanization, and the decline of the railroad industry began to take their toll. By the late 1970s, only 23 vendors remained in the market, and the physical structure had significantly deteriorated.
In 1976, however, Reading Terminal and its train shed were designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1981, the Reading Company began to invest time and resources into the market, recruiting a dozen Amish vendors who experienced instant popularity amidst a slowly reviving downtown. In 1990, the Reading Company sold the market to the newly formed Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority. The new ownership implemented a top-to-bottom historic rehabilitation of the market and built a convention center adjacent to Reading Terminal.
Over 6 million people visit the market each year, generating upwards of $50 million in annual sales. Because the vendor businesses are 100 percent locally owned, the market's revenues are recycled within the Philadelphia region. The majority of patrons live in the Philadelphia region, and tourists make up about one-quarter of the shoppers.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Reading Terminal Market is part of a building complex: the Reading Terminal Head House, the Reading Terminal Train Shed, and the Reading Terminal Market (under the train shed)
- The Reading Railroad built a train depot, passenger station, and company headquarters on the corner of 12th and Market Streets (1890) after purchasing the space for $1 million
- The head house was designed by New York City architect Francis H. Kimball; train shed by the Wilson Brothers & Company engineering firm (1891)
- Market opened its doors on February 23, 1982; station opened on January 29, 1893
- Built in the Italian Renaissance style, the head house has brick bearing walls with cast-iron columns and timber floors, and the interior finishes include molded ornamental plaster and marble with cast-iron detailing
- The train shed was placed on the National Register of Historic Places (1972) and was declared a National Historic Landmark (1976)
- The Reading Terminal Train Shed is now one of the world's oldest such structures and one of the few remaining in the United States
Amenities and Events
- With approximately 80 commercial spaces, the market offers a diverse array of ethnic foods, fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, ice cream, flowers, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and specialty items
- Located in the center of the market, "Philbert," a life-size bronze pig sculpture, is a crowd favorite; customers can donate money to support nutrition education for children
- "Party for the Market" is hosted annually each winter, celebrating the anniversary of the market; over 700 attendees; features food from the market's merchants, open bars, and live entertainment
- Every Wednesday and Saturday, 75-minute walking tours are hosted by food writers, providing some background on the market's signature pretzels, hoagies, cheese steaks, and other Philadelphia favorites
- The market hosts free performing arts events in a variety of genres, both monthly and on a pop-up basis
Market Management and Improvements
- Supporters of the market organized the Reading Terminal Market Preservation Fund to ensure the market retained its character as the convention center project developed (1988)
- The Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority secured $30 million in public funding to upgrade the market's infrastructure and update the interior (1992)
- The Food Trust was founded as a program of the Reading Terminal Market, accepting SNAP/food stamps with the goal of making healthy food more readily available to everyone (1992)
- The Reading Terminal Market Corporation (NGO) was formed to manage the market along with input from the Reading Terminal Market Merchants Association and the board of directors (1994)
- Avenue D Renovation Project was the master plan for a portion of the market; $3.5 million for additional vendor space, a new demonstration kitchen, a multi-purpose rental space, and new restrooms (2012)