The Origins of Reading Terminal Market
Markets have been an important part of life in Philadelphia since the city's founding in 1682. For years open air markets flourished on its streets. There were so many that at one point its High St was renamed Market St.
In the early-mid 19th century the public perception of these markets took a downward turn. People began to think of them as dirty, unhygenic, obstructive and generally a nuisance, and in 1859 the city decided to dismantle them.
As a result indoor markets became the new big thing. To begin with two opened on 12th and Market Streets, Franklin and Farmer's Market respectively.
When the industrial revolution brought the railroads to the city, plans were made for a new Reading railway terminal, complete with a market and state of the art basement storage and refrigeration system to allow vendors to offer seasonal produce the whole year through.
The Glory Days of Reading Terminal Market
The market opened in 1892 followed by the station a year after. It boasted 380 merchants in its first year of operation and was almost fully occupied for 60 years after that.
Making innovative use of the railroad, vendors took long distance orders, delivering them for pick-up at the customers' local train stations. In this way the market was able to reach approximately 60 towns along the Jersey Shore.
The storage system too played an important role in the local community, space there being leased to other local businesses, breweries and even hospitals.
Tumultuous Times For Reading Terminal Market
The market's fortunes suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Frequent strikes and the rise of the supermarket disrupted business and took away custom, but despite this it remained afloat.
Briefly, WW2 bolstered the market's importance, food shortages often making it the only place people could find certain goods. This peaked on May 9, 1946, when a crowd of 12,000 people was recorded there shopping for hard to find products.
This reprise was short-lived. The 1950s-60s brought with them the decline of the railroads and the rise of the suburbs. This destroyed the market's traditional means of reaching customers and ultimately saw it running on a deficit. Occupancy fell to 70% and the state of the art storage system was shutdown, having been deemed to expensive to run.
Reading Terminal Market Rises Again
In the 1970s things looked bleak for the market. The railroad company filed for bankruptcy in 1971, and in 1976 turned their focus towards real estate. This made them want to dismantle the market to make the terminal building easier to sell.
The 1980s saw a change in attitude however. The market was once again deemed a worthy investment and efforts were made to revitalise it. In 1994 the city council set up a non-profit to manage it and by the late 90s it was back up to 90% occupancy.
Since then it has gone from strength to strength. It is today recognised as a major Philadelphia attraction and hosts over 100 merchants offering everything from fresh produce and meat and fish to artisinal cheese, ice cream, flowers, smoothies, crafts, books, clothes and more! You can even see it in major Hollywood films like Trading Places and National Treasure.
Visiting Reading Terminal Market
The market is open from 8am-6pm, seven days a week. Between Sunday-Tuesday a limited number of stores are closed, and between Wednesday-Saturday the whole place is operational and thriving.
It is a couple of minutes walk from 11th St underground station and is even closer to Jefferson station. The City Hall, Liberty Bell and other great Philadelphia attractions are within an easy walking distance, making it a great stop on any Philadelphia walking tour.