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The History of the Philadelphia's Italian Market

source PhillyHistory Blog

By Erica Stefanovich

In the late 1880s, 9th and Fitzwater was outside of Mediastream_2 the plan for Philadelphia. Not included in William Penn's original outline for his city, the neighborhood sprang up quite by accident. Antonio Palumbo built his boarding house there, and received an influx of immigrants looking for work in the developing city. As the community grew they began to open up stores along 9th Street until it took on an appearance not dissimilar to what one finds in the same neighborhood today. Some of the many stores included butchers, cheese shops, cook ware stores, and the vast variety of goods one might find in a European outdoor market. There was nothing that the new immigrant could not purchase on 9th Street. Several shops survive to this day in a vibrant market that is the oldest and largest of its kind in the United States.

Even today, wandering between stands and storefronts, visitors feel transported. Despite the fact that William Penn did not include this area in within his planned city limits, it has been lovingly embraced by city residents and has become a major economic and tourist draw for the city. The Italian Market, and the residential area surrounding which borrows its name, is still a vibrant community with year round shopping. In the winter, fire barrels keep shoppers warm as they browse beneath awnings. Cannuli's Meats and Isgro Pasticceria have both survived since the first decade of the 20th century. Shoppers may buy their food in the same store their parents, grandparents, and possibly great grandparents did.

Of course, the market has not remained static through the years. As immigration patterns and the neighborhood changed, so did the market. In the past 30 years the market has diversified well beyond its name and sells a variety of ethnic foods from Vietnamese to Mexican, as well as jewelry, souvenirs, and even Philadelphia's famous cheesesteaks. Many Philadelphia restaurants even buy their ingredients straight from the market, to support local business and get the freshest ingredients possible. The cobblestones and carriages may be gone, but the market has not lost its rustic charm.

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