Arrivederci – Farewell Post

This blog was created as a project for my Online Journalism class at Rowan University.

As the semester comes a close, I would like to reflect upon what I’ve learned through reporting and creating content on this blog.

Regarding journalism, I believe that I learned a lot about interviewing. This entire project was a learning experience. I have no prior blogging experience, or learned skills in photography, audio, and video content. It was sometimes frustrating to learn even the basics of these processes, but ultimately it helped enhance the storytelling of the blog and make it a more varied experience.

Most importantly, I learned about the people of 9th Street. It was truly invigorating to hear people’s stories about their experiences in the Italian Market. I spoke with people who had a deep-rooted family history, and people who are relatively new to the Market, but their passion for their neighborhood is undeniable in every case.

I do plan to continue this blog and continue to learn about the people, history, and future of 9th Street. Thank you to those who have read my posts and provided feedback, and especially to those people of the market who gave me their time and their stories.

Here are 5 of my favorite posts from the blog:

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Everything You Need to Know About This Year’s South 9th Street Italian Market Festival – May 16 & 17, 2015

Curbside vendor selling fresh produce on 9th Street across from Villa di Roma. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

Curbside vendor selling fresh produce on 9th Street across from Villa di Roma. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

The scents of summer wafting through the air, the taste of a fresh pina colada on your lips, the promise of a hearty cheeseburger if you can just wait in this line for five more minutes… There is nothing like a summer festival!

This year, the South 9th Street Italian Market Festival will take place on Saturday May 16 and Sunday May 17 from 11 am – 6 pm. In addition to the everyday retail offerings on 9th Street, including, of course, its world-class cheese shops, butcher stores, and Philly sandwiches, many merchants will be selling all kinds of foods and beverages curb-side for guests’ enjoyment.

In addition to the food – although, let’s face it, that’s one of the BEST parts – expect to find live music, craft vendors, and even games around every corner!

While you’re on 9th Street, don’t forget to say “Happy Birthday.” 2015 marks a particularly special year for the Festival and the Italian Market, as it is the district is celebrating its “Cent’anni” – its 100 year anniversary!

What better way to celebrate 100 years of incredible food, multicultural heritage, and amazing, dedicated people than the Italian Market Festival?

As someone who is intent on exploration, indecisive about snacks, and has waited in plenty of lines – I think I can share a tip or two. Here is everything you need to know about this year’s festival.

HISTORY

9th Street has deep roots in history. The South Philly gem is the nation’s oldest operating curb market, having originated through Italian immigrants who worked and boarded in the area. (Read more about this and some other miscellaneous cheesesteak trivia here!)

Though the market has grown to be a melting pot of various cultures besides Italian, including Korean and Mexican, it still honors its Italian roots. The second day of the Italian Market Festival begins with the Procession of Saints to St. Paul Parish, which is a Roman-Catholic tradition where people process through the local neighborhood with statues of saints. You are likely to see children in their first communion attire, and ornate statues of the Blessed Mary.

The Procession of Saints takes place on the third Sunday in May, which will be May 17.

In the Italian Market, the procession begins at Saint Mary Magdalen Church (7th and Montrose), stops for the Blessing of the Market at 9th and Washington, and ends at Saint Paul Parish.

YOUR ARRIVAL

All of the Italian Market Festival action can be found on South 9th Street from Fitzwater street to Federal Street. This technically encompasses both the Bella Vista and East Passyunk neighborhoods.

All of the retail shops remain open throughout the festival, but the focus is on the typically on the lively outdoor happenings.

Over 70,000 visitors are expected to attend, so taking public transportation or parking at a distance and walking to the market is highly recommended.

9th Street is closed to vehicle traffic throughout the weekend. Make a note of where you park in case you have to walk a distance!

THE FOOD

Oh, the food! There will be indulgences everywhere you turn, and you’re in great shape whether you like to sit down for a meal or try a little bit of everything! (Personally, I’m a fan of the latter.)

Take a word from the wise, 3-year Italian Market Festival veteran Christopher Menzinger: “This isn’t a place where you go after stuffing yourself with a diner breakfast. Come hungry and come with an open mind. There are really just a ton of amazing things to try, so you shouldn’t limit yourself to one area or one thing.”

My mouth is watering already!

Here are some highlights to check out. Click below for a map of these top spots on 9th Street!

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zAYkPLmryN2g.kIBdHjBUpIQA

  • Anastasi Seafood (1101 S. 9th St.) – soft shell crab sandwiches
  • Los Taquitos De Pueblas Taqueria (1149 S. 9th St.) – pork tacos
  • Esposito’s Meats (1001 S. 9th St.) – Italian sausage sandwiches
  • Isgro’s Pastries (1009 Christian St.) – sfogliatelli
  • Anthony’s Italian Coffee House (903 S. 9th St.) – chocolate covered bananas or chocolate covered strawberries
  • And of course the pina colada in a pineapple! Available at several vendors throughout the market, with or without alcohol. (Be prepared for approximately 75 people to ask, “where did you get that?” Just sip and point.)

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The South 9th Street Italian Market Festival is one of the greatest events of the year in Philadelphia. Plan ahead, have an amazing time, and enjoy all that this incredible outdoor market has to offer!

Feel free to share your festival tips or past experiences with me in the comments.

SEE YOU THERE!

From Cappuccino to Cutlery: Video Interview with Mariella Esposito, Owner of Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop

Whether you need a world-class pasta strainer, top-of-the-line cutlery, or a steaming hot cappuccino, Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop is the place to go.

Fante’s is the oldest cookware store in the country and located in the heart of the Italian Market! Mariella Esposito, Fante’s co-owner, started working at the store in 1970 as a part-time employee while still in high school. She arrived in Philadelphia as an immigrant from Italy and worked alongside her brothers in the store for the Fante family. “The Italian Market has been a home for me for the past 40 years,” said Esposito.

Fante’s opened on 9th Street in 1906, originally as a carpenter shop owned by father and son team Dominic and Luigi Fante. According to Esposito, when son Dominic took over the business, he did not know how to make furniture, so he sold pre-made furniture and turned the store into a gift shop. In the 1940’s, Fante’s started to bring some cookware into the retail store, and they have not turned back since!

It was not until 1981 when Esposito and her brothers took over the business and developed it into the full-fledged cookware store it is today. They are most well-known for their traditional Italian cookware, such as pizzelle irons and gnocchi boards, but carry a vast array of products for every cooking and baking need.

A look down one of the ‘gadgets’ aisles at Fante’s. Click to enlarge photo. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

Did I mention that Fante’s also has a fantastic coffee shop with a coffee of the day special? (It’s worth the visit for the beautiful aroma alone.)

Today Mariella took me on a tour of every nook and cranny of the wondrous kitchen shop. Watch the video below to hear her thoughts on the evolution of the Italian Market and get a sneak peek inside the store – including its most “FABULOUS” items!

Note: Video has been edited for length and clarity. Please check back for an updated post with an extended version of the interview.

Video recorded with my iPhone 6 and edited with iMovie. This was my very first experience with interview recording and video editing, so I certainly hope to improve from here!

97 Years of Fresh Baked Bread: Audio Interview with Lou Sarcone Jr. of Sarcone’s Bakery

At Sarcone’s Bakery, ‘it’s all about the bread,’ and it has been that way for five generations. That is 97 years’ worth of fresh baked bread daily! Louis Sarcone Jr. is the fourth generation Sarcone to run the renowned family business. Today he shared the background of his business and why he and his family feel compelled to uphold tradition on 9th Street, even when people recognize their name up and down the East Coast.

Lou Sarcone Jr. stands in front of family photos of his father and grandfather displayed in his 9th Street store. Sarcone was 18 years old in the photo on the right. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

Listen here:

Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity. Full length interview will be available in an updated post.

FLASH CHAT: Chatting with Igor Tolkunov of Taffet’s (Gluten-Free!) Artisan Bakery & Store

Welcome to the second installment of FLASH CHAT, a segment in which I converse with workers in the Italian Market and get to know about their business and what it stands for, and how it fits into the melting pot of 9th Street.

This FLASH CHAT is with Igor Tolkunov of Taffet’s Artisan Bakery and Store, a 100% gluten-free shop that bakes all of their products daily on the premises. Taffet’s carries gluten-free bread, bagels, pasta, and even cupcakes!

Tolkunov’s passion for the products and his job was evident from his vast knowledge on all of the baked goods to the smile on his face when discussing a certain delectable gluten-free cookie!

FLASH CHAT is not quite and interview and not quite a Q & A. It is intended as an informative conversation in which I get to the heart of the businesses on 9th Street and discover what keeps customers coming back.

Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Taffet’s Artisan Bakery Store on 9th Street. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

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What is the name of your business?

Tote Better Foods, LLC, but we are known as Taffet’s Bakery.

Do you have any other locations?

Most of the income is wholesale, so a lot of locations, including New York, for example, carry our brand, but we don’t have any other locations for now. We’re working on expanding this location. We just expanded the kitchen and made it twice the size, and we’re going to increase the assortment of goods. Then we will think about opening other locations.

How long have you worked here for?

About one year. I’ve held my position here running the retail business from the beginning while the owners are running the wholesale business and expanding.

Tell me about Taffet’s – the everyday business and its appeal.

We are the only place which makes gluten-free bread. There are a lot of pastry shops, but we are the only place that makes gluten-free bread in the city of Philadelphia. We are very proud of that. We’re always working on our recipes and making sure that everything freezes perfectly, making sure everybody is satisfied. We review all of the feedback that we get.

Describe the products you carry in your store, including the fresh products as well as the packaged goods.

The fresh products are what we are most proud of.  We have our gluten-free loaves of teff and quinoa bread. Everything is made fresh daily, you can buy our fresh bread every day. With the packaged goods, we focus on pasta a lot because we are in the Italian Market and everyone is looking for pasta. I don’t want to get into stereotypes, but that is true. We do get our pasta from Italy, actually, and it’s absolutely gluten-free. There is no risk of cross-contamination, so even if someone has a tough case of celiac disease, everything here can be bought with no risk at all.

What is the most popular item sold here?

The breads are probably the most popular. The teff loaves and quinoa loaves are two of our most popular sandwich loaves in the retail store. We also wholesale them to a lot of locations. We’re also making some of the sweet stuff. Our cookies are very popular with people who are gluten-free and who are not gluten-free as well. That’s probably the product that the non-gluten-free people come for. We have chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies, which are our favorite.

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Some of the gluten-free bread, pretzel, and cookies available. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

What is your favorite part of having your business here on 9th Street?

I like the market atmosphere. Everybody’s family here and we all help each other out. The rents are very decent and everybody knows everybody, plus it’s very friendly for customers. I’m able to give advice to people if they’re trying to find something in the market, and the other businesses do the same.

If you could embody your business with one phrase, what would it be?

“You won’t believe it’s gluten-free.”

What do you think that people like the most about this shop?

We remember our regulars and always try to meet their custom needs. If they need something sugar-free or if they need recipes modified, we try to find a balance that can be done for what they want. Many people who come here have special needs with very rare allergies and such. We are very flexible and try to be as friendly and helpful as possible. Plus, to make sure their health is not compromised we will literally try to make sure we know everybody’s face. And we are extremely careful in making sure we can fulfill their special dietary needs.

Tell me about your experience working on 9th Street.

I feel at home here. I’ve had a lot of professions in my lifetime. I used to be a teacher, an ethnologist, and I just feel at home here. I couldn’t dream of a better career. As long as I’m useful, I’m staying, definitely.

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Igor Tolkunov (left) and his co-worker Jonathan hard at work. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

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Check out the very first edition of FLASH CHAT with Paesano Philly Style’s Chris Peterman and stay tuned for more exciting news this week!

Italian Market Q & A: Joe Ankenbrand, Co-Owner of Molly’s Books and Records on 9th Street

Molly’s Books and Records on 9th Street. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

What makes a business successful? Business owners who are passionate about their products, their customers, and making it succeed.

Joe Ankenbrand embodies all of these qualities. He is a co-owner of Molly’s Books and Records, a used book and record store in the 9th Street Italian Market, with his wife Molly, the store’s namesake.

Ankenbrand has been buying records since 1964 and does not plan on stopping anytime soon. He works as the full-time record buyer and seller for the store, and even lives upstairs!  Speaking with Ankenbrand provided a lot of insight as to what makes 9th Street so wonderful from both a business and personal aspect. 

Read my Q & A with Ankenbrand to find out what his most memorable experiences on 9th Street and why used book and record stores aren’t just for record geeks!

Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Joe Ankenbrand, co-owner of Molly’s Books and Records, poses with the jukebox in the 9th Street store. Ankenbrand and Molly, his wife and business partner, were married in this same spot. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

How long have you been working at Molly’s Books and Records?

Six years.

Where are you from originally?

Philly. The Olney section.

Do you still live in the area?

Molly and I are married and we live upstairs from the store.

Tell me about Molly’s: the everyday business and its history.

Molly is a third generation bookseller. She purchased the property approximately 15 years ago; and it has been a bookstore, it has been a whole foods store, and when I met her, she had gone out of business and was getting back into business as a bookstore. We started doing records as well as books.

It was known as Molly’s Café, Bella Vista Natural Foods, and Molly’s Café and Bookstore. It’s been Molly’s Books and Records for six years. I met Molly because I had another job that brought me into the area and I used to come in here to look for books. She had gotten couple of crates of records that she didn’t know what to do with, and I knew her brother. She knew that I was interested in records and she asked me to help price them, so that’s how we met. We became a couple first, and then we became business partners. It’s quite a story. We’ll be married two years this April.

Walk me through a typical day for you.

Basically I roll out of bed, roll down the steps, and open the store. What we love about the market is that if we want fresh fruit or a newspaper, we just go up the street. Any supplies that we need for the store, we can pretty much get right in the neighborhood. I usually open the store, and it’s basically just preparing items that we go out and find. Since we sell all used merchandise, and we don’t sell anything new, we need to go out and find the merchandise. When we’re not actually going out to locate stock for the store, we need to prepare it for sale. That includes pricing, cleaning, basically keeping shop. I come in, flip on the jukebox, put out the merchandise for the sidewalk sale out on the sidewalk, and wait for people to come in.

Why 9th Street? Are there any other locations of this shop?

We had an outlet store on Passyunk Avenue for about a year and a half, but we decided having two stores was too complicated so we ditched the other place. Molly has been living in the Italian Market for 35 years.

What is your favorite thing about working here at Molly’s?

Owning the place is part of the charm. It’s a little different when you own a store as opposed to working in it. We take a lot of pride in just making it the best store possible. When Molly and I started this place together, we said we wanted the best little store in the world. For instance, we don’t put anything online. Anything a customer wants can be found right in the store. We love the earthiness of 9th Street; Molly has always loved it. I came here from another place, and what I love about it is that everyone is very, very friendly on this street. There’s something kind of indescribable about the personal connection that we feel with the other people on the street. We kind of feel like we’re all in it together. We try to support all of the other merchants as much as possible.

Since this is a book and record store, what is your favorite book?

Well, right now I’m reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, and usually my favorite book is the one I’m reading at the time. One of my all-time favorites is Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. Those two are definite favorites, but some authors I like are Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, and David Goodis, who was a Philadelphia author. He wrote a lot of crime fiction.

Do you get to read a lot while you’re working?

No, I don’t have time.

What is your favorite record or album?

Oh good Lord. Let’s just say I started buying records in 1964, and I pretty much never stopped, even when the CD revolution hit. So I’ve been able to provide myself with a lot of entertainment throughout the years. I’ve always been a Beatles fan. I love music from the 60s, whether it’s garage rock or psych, most 60s music are definitely favorites. If I had to pick some of my top records, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and 12 X 5 by the Rolling Stones, because that was the first record I ever bought.

Do you have a lot of regular customers? What keeps them coming back here?

One rule of business is that you should know the names of your top five customers. I think we know the names of our top 20. We have very loyal customers. One of the things that we’ve tried to do, especially by not putting anything online – this is something that Molly and I tried to do consciously – is have all of our best merchandise available in the store for our customers. We put an emphasis on quality – we may be the only used record store with a return policy. Quality and price are the most important things. For customer service, we keep a ‘want list’ for people and when I’m out looking for records, I’m actually shopping for my customers.

A look down the aisle at Molly’s. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

How do you go about looking for records?

That’s a full-time job, believe it or not. I don’t know what I’m doing sitting here right now; I should be out looking for records. It’s a combination of things: we do auctions, estate sales, flea markets. We have feelers out in the closest four states. I’ve been buying records since 1964, so I try to make a store that I would want to go in and an environment that people would want to go in and feel welcome. Whether they’re looking for a rare jazz record or their favorite Billy Joel record from high school, I try to treat every customer like their wants are respected. It’s not just for record geeks, in other words.

So the everyday person shouldn’t feel intimidated walking in here? 

Record stores are a funny thing. There is, of course, a ‘record store vibe’ that even I feel when I walk into places, like it’s a clique or something. But we get a lot of tourists through the area, and we want the folks who come in with their families to feel just as welcome as the local record geeks. And having been a record geek, it’s ok to be one. I love record store people, but I want to make it comfortable for everybody.

Vinyl records are having a resurgence of sorts. What are your thoughts on that?

There are a lot of people who are just getting into vinyl. There’s definitely been a resurgence over the past five years or so. And there are a lot of people who feel intimidated, because they don’t know what to look for or how to really shop for records. We try to make them feel comfortable and give them information on where to find turntables and things like that which accompany the records we sell in the store that they might not quite know how to go about finding.

A sample of the varied merchandise sold in the store. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

In what ways has working at Molly’s on 9th Street positively affected your life?

It’s really just a great neighborhood. Everybody’s friendly and we all help each other out and look out for each other. It’s been a positive, in a sense, to feel a part of a business community and part of a neighborhood. There’s more of a human connection here.

In what ways has working at Molly’s on 9th Street negatively affected your life?

Let’s put in this way: I moved here after living in Collingswood, New Jersey for 20 years, so I was used to the singing of birds in the morning. Now I wake up to the sound of chainsaws as the vendors across the street cut up wood for their bonfires. Something negative about the area is that there’s too much trash in the streets and the lighting at night is terrible, so it doesn’t make businesses very inviting in the evening. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

What is your most memorable experience working in the store?

Getting married here. Molly and I got married right in front of the jukebox with her parents and her kids present. We married ourselves; we got a Quaker license, so we didn’t need a minister or anything. Then we went down to Villa Di Roma for dinner, stayed right in the neighborhood. I would say if there was something else, it was when Jerry Blavat did a book signing here a couple of years ago. It was just really delightful to have him in the store. Another memorable experience was when my band, Dixy Blood, played outside of the store during the Italian Market festival a couple years ago. We’re kind of punk-rockabilly, we just put out two CDs and played in New York the other day. I’ve been playing drums since the 60s with lots of different bands, but playing outside the store during the Italian Market festival was really a hoot.

Describe 9th Street in three words.

“It’s Philly, yo.”

How about with three adjectives?  

Friendly is the one that comes to mind the most for me. It’s profitable, good for business. There’s a lot of variety, it’s multicultural. Where are my poet wife and English major employee when I’m in need of an adjective?

Do you have any closing words?

You know, I think 9th Street is a block with a lot of history. It still has so much potential and if it got cleaned up, it could be even better than it is. I know it’s a good tourist destination because it’s real earthy, and it has a real Philly feel to it. It’s a really wonderful place, but I know it can be even better. I’m just so happy to have my business and my home here.

Ankenbrand sorts through records in his 9th Street store. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

Spice Up Your Winter Nights

Photo by the author.

It’s another chilly day in the Italian Market! The Spice Corner at 904 S. 9th St. has some wonderful options to warm up your winter evenings. They carry many exotic flavors of loose tea to make at home, seasoned rubs and spices to add to that pot roast, and even some fruit and nuts to have with dessert.

FLASH CHAT: Chatting with Paesano Philly Style’s Chris Peterman

This is the first installment of Flash Chat, a segment in which I converse with people from various establishments in the Italian Market.

Not quite an interview and not quite a Q&A, Flash Chat will aim to get to the core of the business: what it stands for and what makes it worth knowing about!

I hope to discover some piquant information and to gain a more in-depth understanding of the people and culture of 9th Street in the process.

Without further ado, I present you with FLASH CHAT. This week’s chat was with Chris Peterman. Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Paesano's sign

Paesano’s sign via Yelp user Fred B. on Paesano’s Yelp.com page.

Name: Chris Peterman

Business: Paesano’s Philly Style on 9th Street

Other locations: 2nd & Girard, Memories at Margate, Lincoln Financial Field

When was Paesano’s established? The first Paesano’s opened approximately five years ago [2010], that was the 2nd and Girard location; and our location has been open for almost four years now [2011].

What is the mantra of Paesano’s Philly Style? We’re always putting love into everything we do. We use fresh ingredients and put a Philly twist on it. That’s why our catchphrases are, “Jaeet Yet?” and “Puttin’ the Love in Your Mouth.”

How do you incorporate that into your dishes? We make sure every ingredient that is in the sandwich gets the utmost attention and tastes exactly the same every time that we do it. We like our sandwiches to be consistent through every bite.

Who comes up with the ideas for all the different flavor and ingredient combinations? Our chef, Chef Peter MacAndrews, who has several other restaurants also.

What is the best-selling product at Paesano’s? The Paesano, our signature sandwich. It’s made with beef brisket and has fried egg on top.

What do you think keeps customers coming back? Probably our friendliness when they come in here. And then obviously the delicious flavor of the sandwiches that they can’t find anywhere else!

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Paesano’s is a must-try spot in the Italian Market, and home to my favorite sandwich of all time, the Arista! Check it out in my selection of The 8 Most Crave-Worthy Foods in the Italian Market for Under $10.

What are some 9th Street establishments you’d like to see featured in Flash Chat? Share your thoughts in the comments!