The Reading Terminal Market was one of the first places we visited when we came to Philly. We heard it was a good place for lunch. We stuck to the outside aisle, finding a cheesesteak, some ice cream, and a box of made before our eyes Amish donuts. I was a little intimidated, but much more intrigued. The Market instantly became a must visit for all of our guests, as it was a perfect excuse to try something a little different, or… get another cheesesteak or another box of those donuts. Last spring, I stumbled across a volunteer position called the Market Ambassador. So I applied, and I got it! Now on any given Thursday, I’m ready to meet and greet you at the Market. I help people navigate the Market, point to the bathroom, answer questions (actual example: No, there are no Go Go Dancers in the Market, but yes, I can take you to Dinic’s!), and share random trivia (The first American ice cream- yellow tomato!). I enjoy decoding the confused faces of those who look lost, those anxiously waiting in line, and who may have eaten their lunch too fast (often a similar face). I’ve discovered a special community at the Market, and the dedicated livelihood that has kept it thriving over its 125 years. Although I’m still just a visitor, I feel more and more connected each week. But tonight is a special night.
I now invite you to take my plus one ticket, and get ready to suit up and chow down (you’re looking delicious as a donut from Beiler’s!). As your Market Ambassador, please follow me as I give you a tour of the Party at the Market: Reading Terminal Market’s Annual Fundraising Gala.
It’s 7:30pm on a Saturday, and everyone is in a good mood. The Market is beautifully decorated with draping fabrics and patio lights. The glow of the signs are ever present and the merchants bring out their great and warm charm. There is nothing stuffy-formal about this party. Yes, there are the grand decorations, a silent auction, and a VIP area that I’m definitely not allowed in. But there are no speeches, or assigned seating. No awards, or plated meals. As soon as we get through check in, it’s chicken and waffles from Kevin Parker’s, a band playing in the aisle, and a large open bar. And it’s also open food. Somehow it still feels like the Market. With over 1600 tickets sold, it doesn’t feel crowded due to the Market’s large footprint, and 30 vendors serving ‘dinner’ over the next two hours. If I could make these photos scratch and sniff, I would!
Wearing a bowtie makes any event feel classy. Even when my appetite is diving from plate to plate at an uncomfortable pace. The lines for drinks and food move fluidly. I was originally prepared for lines, so when there aren’t any, I can’t help but eat super fast, and grab the next thing. Carmen’s Mini Cheesesteaks (aka ¼ of a Cheesesteak)- sure! Made to order 12th Street Cantina loaded nachos- okay! And I’m not even down one row of merchants yet. It’s one of those experiences where I’m so excited for it all, I can’t help but rush through it. Thankfully, photos remind me of what I ate, and that maybe, the bowtie doesn’t emulate class like I thought it did ;).
Within an hour, I’m feeling full. My heart is still saying “EAT!” as I grab a mini turkey slider, a grilled corned beef sandwich, some moussaka and some mystery cauliflower thing, yet my stomach is saying slow down. Self-regulation clearly did not score a ticket for tonight’s party.
As the dinner hours wind down, we managed to get to about 20 of the 30 vendors. And now it’s time for the two hours of dessert!!! You already know where this is going… Bieler’s donuts: You know it! Gluten-free funnel cakes from Fox and Son: Seriously! Bassett’s ice cream: The best! Termini Bros cannollis… You get the idea.
Between the food and drink, we enjoy walking around, catching a few Eagles players desperately trying to find a moment’s peace, and just pausing to take it all in. It feels refreshing to just be one of the crowd again at the Market. To just be able to pause and take in the sights, smells, and sounds. To appreciate the people I’m with, and enjoy the 25-course meal. Everything is truly a delight.
The night ends how any good night should end— Dancing at the grocery store. The produce at Iovine’s is cleared out to make a dance floor, so I give it my best white boy shuffle, as we spin the night away with a few co-workers and friends. The grocery store dance floor is also where the highlight of the night takes place.
Flashback to February 22, the actual 125th birthday of the Market. A random guest was able to buy a ticket for the price it would have cost in 1893. So instead of $175, it only cost $7. It was one of those moments when I knew we had given this special price to the right person.
Back to the Party: As the evening is coming to a close, I see the random guest who got the $7 ticket. She is on the dance floor, chatting, laughing, and just giving off the best energy. She spots me, and runs over, like I’m an old friend. I don’t even know her name. She came alone, and has loved every minute of it. After big hugs, she thanks for me for the ticket, we take a few photos, and she disappears back into the dance floor. It’s these moments that make tonight, and the Market, the special place that it is. Where everyone in the crowd comes for the food, but stays for the connections. It’s a place where strangers make friends.
And with that, our tour comes to close. I offer you a virtual sample of Sweet As Fudge fudge, and an invitation to join us next year in person. Who’s in?! And hey, you don’t have to wait for next year’s Party to visit the Market. Come and visit me on Thursdays, and we’ll do lunch!
Random Bonus Fun Fact: In Monopoly all of the names are actual businesses or locations that do/did exist in Atlantic City, or Philadelphia. Including…. Reading Railroad! (aka- the Reading Terminal Market, built under what was once a railroad terminal (oh, and it’s pronounced ‘Red’ing, not Book-Read’ing as we were taught us to believe).
Song of the Day: Dancing (from Hello Dolly)