Today I’m visiting America’s oldest and continuously operating outdoor market; the Philadelphia Italian Market. Once again, we’re following in Rocky’s footsteps. You may remember this location from Rocky’s jog through the city. A vendor tosses him an orange. Naturally, Mr. Balboa is a hero in the Italian part of town.
A collection of nearly 200 businesses, the Philadelphia Italian Market spans over 20 city blocks.
A huge mural of the once-beloved Italian Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo greeted me on Montrose Street. History has not been kind to Rizzo. With his backing of brutal police tactics and controversial statements toward minorities, I figured this mural’s days were numbered. The mural was painted over on June 7, 2020. His statue in Center City bit the dust, too.
Nearby there is an unofficial historical marker explaining a bit more about how the market came to be. There is an official Pennsylvania historic marker on 9th Street.
For over 100 years, the Philadelphia Italian Market has been a community of immigrants. Generations of immigrant families have lived and worked here.
Frequently referred to simply as 9th Street, the area is outside the original boundaries of William Penn’s planned city, an area for immigrants.
Before the market, Philadelphia had a Northern Italian community. Due to tensions that originated back in Italy, the Sicilians felt hey could not join in that community. So, many of these new Southern Italian immigrants began to settle in South Philadelphia to avoid those tensions and build their own community.
In the mid-to-late 1880s Antonio Palumbo, an Italian immigrant, opened a boarding house in the neighborhood for other Italians. Businesses sprang up to serve this growing community.
Dozens of vendors line the street selling fresh vegetables, fish, meats, spices, and produce from their stalls. Gourmet shops and restaurants occupy storefronts in between.
Butcher shops, bakeries, and other specialty shops are throwbacks to a time before supermarkets.
Many of the shops are family owned and have been for nearly 100 years. I found it amazing to see so many businesses calling this out in their signage. And why shouldn’t they? To be in business for that long is an amazing achievement.
Today the market is starting to get more gentrified. There are little coffee shops with expensive chairs and nice interiors dot the street. On the outskirts, Latin American and Asian American businesses have filled in where some of the Italians have left. Some of the best food in the city is here in these city blocks. From Italy to Vietnam, Mexico to Sicily, if you like food this is a must-visit section of town.
As for me, I’m sticking with Italian American cuisine for lunch. One meatball hoagie, please!
Ralph’s is the oldest family-run Italian run restaurant in the country. Dante’s and Luigi’s is the oldest Italian Restaurant in continuous operation in the country. Grab a cannoli at Isgro’s Bakery. Don’t forget about Cheesesteak Corner at the very end of the market area.
The market is completely free to visit. It is open year-round, generally from 9 am to 5 pm, though it varies from business to business. Most businesses are open until lunchtime on Sunday and closed Monday. Outdoor stands and cafes open at the crack of dawn, and restaurants serve patrons late into the evening.
The market hosts an annual Italian Market Festival with music, activities, and food. Stop by the Italian Market Visitor center for maps and souvenirs. The center is located at 919 S. 9th St.