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Very Strong Bags | Philadelphia City Paper

ARTSY CART: John Banks runs his Italian Market business his way.

Neal Santos

Among the various iconic symbols of Philadelphia's Italian Market — the imposing mural of former police chief and mayor Frank Rizzo; the great chariot wheels of cheese hanging in the windows of the Di Bruno Bros. grocery — John Banks is probably among the lesser known.

On the other hand, he's probably one of the most colorful. Nearly every day for the past 20 years (yes, this year marks his 20th anniversary, he says), Banks has hawked 50-cent shopping bags and delivered groceries to nearby and elderly residents ($2 to $3 per delivery) from his homemade storefront — a shopping cart — developing in the process his own ramshackle brand.

There's the uniform: hat, boots, cargo pants and a pair of sunglasses that he never, ever removes. And then, attracting what must be hundreds of photographers, pro and amateur alike, over the years, his carts. He's "taken to advertising" on them, he explains mildly: Each is plastered from top to bottom with Banks' handmade signs, which he creates with black marker in a style that is instantly recognizable and often beautiful: "The Name for Stress-Free Grocery Delivery Since 1991," reads one. "A Very Strong Bag!" reads another. Others are more contemplative: "I Love You Mom!"; "May the Work That I Do Speak For Me."

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