Featuring: Reading Terminal Market with CEO and GM interview


Annie Allman shares the history and future plans for Philadelphia’s biggest tourist attraction

Jakob Eiseman, Former Editor-in-Chief

Image courtesy of Jakob Eiseman

The first time I came to the city of Philadelphia, I was tired, stressed, and incredibly overwhelmed. My mother and I wandered the streets of Center City asking for directions, getting heckled by hawkers, and bumped into by drunken Phillies fans when finally, we came upon a lively area with musicians, tour busses, street performers, and a bustling crowd of people all talking and cheering happily to create a low, relaxing murmur. As we approached, we quickly saw the gray, cold Philly we had been seeing come to life with movement and color, and the closer we got, the more we could hear the performances and smell a wonderful plentitude of smells. We finally came upon the Reading Terminal Market and thought, “when in Rome,” before opening the doors and being greeted with a loud boom of voices and a bright flash of liveliness. While I do not quite remember what I did, saw, or ate while I was there, I remember that I wanted to return, and when I committed to La Salle, one of the first things I did after moving in was return to the Reading Terminal, and I have been going back ever since.

For some of our new students or members of the La Salle community reading from across the country, the Reading Terminal Market is a vast open market living inside a National Historic Landmark that was once cooperating as a market and train station. The Terminal is filled with vendors of all types, from produce to meats to prepared foods to jewelry to clothing — anything you are looking for under the Philadelphia sun can be found within, and most of it is the best you will find anywhere in the city. 

Image courtesy of Jakob Eiseman

Dinic’s Roast Beef sports hangers where butchers from the Market’s early days would hang animals to be sold off in pieces.

Located in Center City along North 12th Street, the market spans more than a whole block, running from Filbert Street to Arch Street and nearly reaching back to North 11th. The market is about a five-minute walk from City Hall or a two-minute walk from Jefferson Station. With 2023 set to be the Market’s 130th anniversary, it has carried its roots from the first markets in Philadelphia from the 1600s when purveyors of goods would come to sell and barter to William Penn’s first residents. The formal market first opened in 1892, having over 250 vendors and 100 farmers bringing products regularly to supply local residents and businesses with fresh and quality goods.

Nowadays, the market looks quite different. First and foremost, no trains have run over the top of the market since the 80s, and the vendor spaces have increased significantly, with some even offering their own sit-down dining or walk-in grocer areas. Modernly, the market is still used as a major grocery hub for locals and for those looking to get their hands on some exotic products, but it also has an incredibly popular food culture featuring breakfast through dessert from cultures around the world, including the famous Philly cheesesteak, Amish baked goods, Korean corn dogs, Caribbean classics, Middle Eastern eats, Georgian cheese boats and almost anything else you can imagine. It also has a sizable art scene with linens, jewelry, pottery, souvenirs, and imported works of art from across the globe. You could go to the Reading Terminal every weekend for your entire life and never run out of new things to try or buy.

Image courtesy of Jakob Eiseman

Mountains of fresh produce line the avenues of the Reading Terminal Market.

The market’s CEO Annie Allman was kind enough to sit down with me over the weekend to share with me the history of the Market, their future plans, and some personal stories from the Terminal. Serving as the current leader of the non-profit organization that runs the Market for just over 18 months now, Allman says she has big plans for the market, and has already seen some significant changes go into effect since her taking the position. 

Like myself and many of our readers, Allman found her way to the market during her college education, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. In January of 2021, Allman came to the market hoping to help transition it from its operations during the COVID-19 pandemic’s peak in Philadelphia to a new future that celebrated what always made the market special. 

The market never closed through the pandemic, as it is a grocer, but visitors were somewhat infrequent through its peaks, and some vendors suffered financially. “It was a ghost town. It was sad, and I think a lot of people had lost hope,” said Allman. She hoped she could put her experience in tourism and hospitality to work to bring some life back to the market and hope back to the heart of Philadelphia. 

Her team reached out to highly motivated, energized businesses and individuals that they thought could help bring a new vibe and feeling to the market. Now, nearly every vendor area is filled with many new and returning faces to the market, and Allman noted that over 25 percent of merchants are BIPOC, and more than 45 percent of vendors’ businesses are women owned or co-owned. 

Image courtesy of Jakob Eiseman

Sweet T’s bakery, Allman highlighted, “is believed to be the first Black-owned bakery in the market’s history, and that’s really a sign of how much diversity is coming to the market.” Many vendors are first or second-generation immigrants, and almost all merchants found within the market are local Philadelphians, some of whom source all of their materials and ingredients locally. The variety of people working in the Market and attending it is vast, and people from all corners of the city are present.

After just over a year and a half of reorganizing and filling up the market again, Allman says that they are “absolutely ready to shine,” and just seeing the crowds and feeling the electricity in the market on a Friday afternoon, I think they are finally back.

Now that the market has really picked itself back up after its pandemic lull, their next big project is to expand the market, not further into buildings, but out onto Filbert Street, building a large patio and setting up easily convertible blockers so as to allow for outdoors festivals or popup markets to take over the road. Allman says that they are not able to share any plans at this time, but that once the Filbert expansion is ready, Reading Terminal will be sure to take advantage of the space with unique and fun activities and markets that could not exist anywhere else in the city.

“The Market is a great way to experience a true Philadelphia tradition and really be a part of the city and its culture,” says Allman. Not only is it a Philly tradition, but it also has ties to so many parts of the globeand experiencing the traditions and customs of other cultures is truly representative of the melting pot that is the city of Philadelphia. 

In addition to being one of, if not the largest SNAP redemption site in the state, the Reading Terminal Market is operated by a nonprofit that seeks to keep the market accessible to people of all incomes and provide fresh products to residents of Philadelphia that may not have access to food in the same way as others. For the last two years, the Market has won the award for best public market, and Allman attributed their success to the persistence and resilience of small business owners through the pandemic. The Market has always made the support of small, local businesses a priority.

“I love this place because you can truly feel, smell, and taste Philadelphia,” said Allman. “After the pandemic, all of that social unrest in the city, and everything we have been through, coming to the market is a perfect way to enter a magic bubble of culture, experience something new and diverse, meet new people with new ideas and feel comfortable taking in the city in a wonderful organic space,” Allman described with fervor. “It truly is the best of Philly all in one place,” she concluded.

Image courtesy of Jakob Eiseman

If you’ve never made your way down to the Reading Terminal or if this was just the excuse you needed to get back there, I encourage you to check it out. It is truly a place unlike any other, and I hope our audience can see it that way too. Please click here to find a list of all current vendors within the Market.

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