Mulling The Market

It’s been a while since we professed our undying love for the masterful work of Rick Nichols, but after reading his lyrical analysis of the Italian Market situation in today’s Inquirer, we wanted to make our deep and abiding love for him public once again.

Seriously, people who call yourselves food writers, pay your respects to Rick! He is the direction in which all worthy pendulums swing, blog or otherwise.

And now, on to a discussion of the Italian Market! First of all, it looks like Signore Emilio Mignucci has been reading Foobooz, since he’s planning for the wine and cheese shop we suggested for Butcher’s Café and the super-awesome craft beer store of our dreams. So, you’re welcome, Brothers Di Bruno! No charge.

Second of all, can the Italian Market be saved? Does it need to be?

Here’s what we think: It should be saved, but boy does it need a major overhaul and an injection of fresh ideas, stores and attitude. Not to mention a thorough scrubdown.

People in Philly are obsessed with the past. Part of that obsession makes sense – the country started here and we make much of our tourism money off of that history. But there’s appreciative and respectful of the past and then there’s obsessive and clingy and stubborn and small-minded about the past, which is unfortunately what we seem to run into in Philly more often than not. Sometimes it’s misplaced nostalgia, sometimes it’s laziness and sometimes it’s outright xenophobia that is at the root of this obsession, but it seems especially pronounced in Philly.

The past can coexist happily with the present and in other cities, it often does. In fact, I just visited Pike Place Market in Seattle this past week and was happy to discover that it’s a lively, active, CLEAN, tourist-friendly place that still embraced its history. It was overrun with tchotchke stalls and head shops, but there was still a vibrant community of food purveyors. If you want to get really particular, I suppose Pike Place is more analogous to Reading Terminal Market, which has its own issues, but the fact remains that it’s a public market that has moved forward to the benefit of all – the merchants and the customers. And the city.

I love going to the Italian Market, but I don’t linger. When I shop there, it’s a direct hit and retreat: mozzarella or burrata at Claudio’s, sausage at Fiorella’s, occasionally a roast pork sandwich from George’s, an expensive but quirky kitchen gadget from Fante’s, tacos al pastor from Los Taquitos de Puebla. Most of the produce there is embarrassing, unless you’re planning on cooking it to death, but it’s inexpensive, which is important, too. Like Rick mentions in the article, that could become even more important in these trying times.

Imagine if the best parts of the Headhouse Square Farmers Market (the local stuff, the pleasantly earnest salesfolk) could blend with the best parts of the Italian Market (the prices, the old-school expertise, the variety)? With a few places to stop and have a beer or a glass of wine or a market treat while you shopped? And a place that wasn’t so dirty? And run-down? There’s charming and then there’s poorly maintained. It’s always amazing to me that some of those buildings haven’t been condemned. Although even a paint job would be a major improvement to many of the facades.

How about enhancing the ‘green factor‘? Rather than adding tons more parking (although some is certainly necessary), how about hiring a bunch of pedicab drivers on the weekend to schlep people and their groceries (or tourists) back to Center City? How about adding street performances other than the creepy strolling accordionist?

Since we seem to have Mignucci’s ear here, why not put your own suggestions in the comments below?

Can the Italian Market be saved? [Philadelphia Inquirer]