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South 9th Street Italian Market Celebrates 100 Years

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The South 9th Street Italian Market is the oldest continuously operated outdoor market in the United States, with goods like fruit and produce being sold on Ninth Street as early as the 1880s. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the historic market as a formal business district, the United Merchants of the South 9th Street Business Association present “Cent’anni.”

“Cent’anni” events will run through December, culminating with a New Year’s Eve Day Toast Party. “The ‘Cent’anni’ celebration may be the most exciting series of events we’ve ever had in the market,” said Michele Gambino, business manager for the association. “The area has evolved and is transforming rapidly. And while we take a great deal of pride in our heritage, we are eagerly looking forward to the future of the South 9th Street Italian Market shopping district. That is what ‘Cent’anni’ is all about.”

Although it’s been known as “The Italian Market,” it is an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood, with many Latino and Asian constituents. Its century-old story is a multigenerational story of small business and family life. As the birthplace of our nation, Philadelphia is a city proud of its many historical places. It is the home of the Liberty Bell and the sites where the Declaration of Independence was written and signed by our Founding Fathers. Despite being a major metropolitan area, Philadelphia is a close-knit city of neighborhoods. The South 9th Street Italian Market is located in the South Philadelphia section, which includes over 75,000 households and over 170,000 residents.

The business district was formally organized in 1915 as the Italian Market Businessmen’s Association. As the world has changed over the years, the South 9th Street Italian Market has survived many hardships and challenges. From the Great Depression and World Wars to the dawn of computers and, subsequently, the Internet, the market has withstood the test of time. This is a result of not only the surrounding neighborhoods but also the entire Philadelphia region’s bond with the collection of merchants and specialty-product businesses that comprise this historic shopping district.

Aside from being over 100 years old, what makes the South 9th Street Italian Market unique is its open-air street environment, the collection of small businesses, and its iconic awnings, curb stands, fire cans, and rows of storefronts. While the market is primarily known for its culinary exploits, it has emerged as a social area for residents, visitors, shoppers and tourists to gather and enjoy what the market has to offer. This all takes place under the watchful eye of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, depicted in a building-size mural that was commissioned by the world-renowned City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

The market has a huge economic impact on the neighborhood and surrounding area,

with almost $170 million in yearly spending. It has over one million visitors annually to its 400 businesses; it also employs over 2,500 people. Many of these businesses are family owned and of Latino or Asian descent, much like the Italian immigrants who settled here in the early 1900s. Furthermore, the market has hosted visitors from every corner of the globe, including all 50 states, over 70 countries, and every continent, except Antarctica.

The South 9th Street Italian Market is proud to be the oldest continuously operating open-air market in the nation as it celebrates its 100th year as a formal business district. Stretching along six blocks on South Ninth Street, from Wharton Street to Fitzwater Street, and on Washington Avenue, from Eighth to 10th, it is one of the top three tourist destinations in the city of Philadelphia. The shopping district offers a diverse mix of products and services from its brick-and-mortar stores and curb stands.

Greg Mathias
Author: Greg Mathias

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