9th Street Market

Italian Market, 1947. Image provided by Temple University Urban Archives

South Philadelphia

The 9th Street Market is one of the nation’s oldest continuous open-air markets, dating to the turn of the 20th century when Italian immigrants sold fruit, vegetables, and meats from carts and stands. Situated amidst a major manufacturing area, the market maintained late hours to accommodate factory workers. Although it was once the social and commercial heart of the Italian community and is still commonly referred as the “Italian Market,” the 9th Street Market was always an ethnic mix. For much of the 20th century, Jewish vendors sold fabrics and household items, and eggs and poultry from Jewish farm communities in Southern New Jersey. Though a handful of long-time Italian American-owned family businesses still dominate the strip, the market boasts a growing number of Southeast Asian and Mexican shops.

The blocks between Christian Street and Washington Avenue are the historical heart of the market, but the market also encompasses blocks to the north and south of the main strip, and 8th Street to the east. Mexican merchants are extending the vibrancy of the market by transforming the once sleepy blocks south of Washington Avenue with restaurants and groceries. The entire neighborhood, often called Bella Vista, is one of Philadelphia’s most walkable, and is best experienced on foot and at the street level.

Although the market has undergone a facelift in the last 10 years (complete with new awnings), it looks very much the same as it did 100 years ago. It is still a lively and crowded jumble of hawkers loudly advertising their bargains, shoppers negotiating narrow sidewalks packed with overflowing produce stands, flower stalls and live ducks. In the winter, vendors keeping warm by barrel fires. In the summer, locals and tourists settle into the growing number of sidewalk cafes to sip coffee, exchange news, and people-watch.

Even though many Italian Americans have moved to other areas of the city and suburbs, the market’s trade still flourishes. Customers of all backgrounds come from all over the city and the suburbs to purchase ethnic culinary specialties and other wares.

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