- I visited Reading Terminal Market on a recent Friday afternoon to see how it’s recovering from the pandemic.
- The Philadelphia market is home to more than 80 small businesses and was bustling on the afternoon I went.
- Vendors say business has been good and shoppers are returning, but there are supply shortages.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I took a trip to Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – a bustling market full of stalls selling everything from Amish Country produce to sushi – to see how businesses have been doing now that vaccines are available and restrictions have been more relaxed.
On a Friday afternoon, there were many people shopping and enjoying the plethora of foods that the market has to offer. Prior to the pandemic, the market would have been far more crowded on a Friday afternoon than it was when I visited. Still, the market was bustling, and it was clear that things were slowly returning to normal.
The Reading Terminal Market has been open since 1893 and is home to more than 80 small businesses.
Reading Terminal is the oldest and largest public market in the United States and is similar to markets in other American cities like Portland and Charleston. It’s housed in a former historic train shed.
During my afternoon exploring the market, I spoke to three workers who say business has been much better since last year, but there’s another common theme – supply shortages.
At Luhv Vegan Deli, business is ramping up, but certain supplies are hard to come by
At Luhv Vegan Deli, which has been serving its vegan sandwiches in the terminal Avenue B since 2018, employees said business was returning to normal, but things like gloves and vegan meats and cheeses are sometimes in short supply.
“It was just really slow until January-February, but then it started to pick up and be a little bit more [busy] like this on a Saturday here and there,” cashier Jordan Hartsfield said. “We had a shortage of gloves recently, like a couple weeks ago, that happen a lot during the pandemic. A shortage of vegan provolone, the vegan bacon that we had, and the gloves are a lot more expensive than they were pre-pandemic for obvious reasons.”
During the depths of the pandemic, some retailers in the market struggled to stay open and in business. In February, the market’s leadership organized a GoFundMe drive and raised more than $US500,000 ($AU675,299) to support vendors during the slowdown. Other shops turned to curbside pickup and delivery as foot traffic waned.
“We were wiped out,” Annie Allman, the market’s CEO, told Reuters.
I settled on a corned beef special, pasta salad, and a pumpkin spiced whoopie pie.
My meal was fresh, savory, and very flavorful.
Despite the struggles, the variety of merchants keeps Philly’s multicultural feel alive
Sweet T’s Bakery, the first Black-owned bakery in the market since it opened 128 years ago, is famous for its sweet potato pies, cakes, iced teas, and lemonades. Employees I spoke to said business was almost back to normal.
“Business for us has been going really well,” Lamirah Coleman, a manager at Sweet T’s Bakery, told Insider. “Since things are opening back up, more people are coming out, we’re meeting a lot of new customers so we’re really really happy about that.”
I treated myself to one of Sweet T’s famous lemonades and a whoopie pie to go with my meal
“The only shortage that we have lately is the coin shortage,” Coleman added. The US Federal Reserve says there’s not a coin shortage but a problem with the circulation of coins.
Other merchants have been forced to raise prices amid inflation
An employee at Nanee’s Kitchen, which sells Indian/Pakistani cuisine, said they’ve had to raise menu prices by $US1 ($AU1) because of inflated poultry and vegetable prices.
“A couple of times there were no forks or spoons from the restaurant depots that we get them from,” Sam Reddy, an employee at Nanee’s Kitchen said. “And the prices went up, especially on meat and vegetables so my boss increased the prices on the menu by a dollar more for every platter, not too much, just a dollar more but they saw the prices went up at the grocery stores.”
There’s still loads of fresh produce in the market, which can often be a rare find in cities
Having access to fresh fruits and vegetables is vital to maintaining a healthy diet, but that can be nearly impossible in certain parts of Philadelphia. Some neighborhoods in the city don’t have access to healthy foods due to a lack of grocery stores and have been coined as food deserts by researchers and activists.
And plenty of sweets, too
Reading Terminal is home to Mueller Chocolate, featuring an assortment of chocolates and other sweets.
Unique to Philadelphia, Amish-country farm stands also dot the market – and are still thriving
Many also feature pickled vegetables, fresh jams, and sauces.
And – one of my favorites – popcorn!
But that isn’t all the Reading Terminal has to offer, just like the surrounding city, almost any cuisine can be found here.
Whether you’re looking to get some grocery shopping done or experience something new, the Reading Terminal has a little something for everyone.