Time to rename the Italian Market

Posted: April 03, 2013

IT'S TIME to rename the not-so-Italian "Italian Market."

Hear me out.

I'm not trying to slaughter one of Philly's sacred cows here. But the name of the market just doesn't reflect the reality of the street. I mean, have you been on South 9th Street lately?

Bachata music spilling out of Paco Records. Kids playing outside one of the street's numerous taquerias, switching from English to Spanish to Spanglish.

Signs in all kinds of Asian languages on the window of Hai Tao Hair salon. (Though one of their signs says "Se Habla EspaƱol," too.)

Steps from Ralph's, touted as the oldest Italian restaurant in the country, there's New Singlin Chinese Medi-cine, which is near Los Amigos market, where husband-and-wife owners make homemade tamales and chorizo, and Dasani's, another one-stop-shop market run by a husband and wife from India.

The Italian Market goes by other names - 9th Street Market, 9th Street Curb Market. Newer signs on the street tout it as the "South 9th Street Italian Market." But it's most commonly known as simply the Italian Market.

Catchy, but that just tells part of the story - albeit an important one.

According to promotional materials, the market, which runs along 9th Street from Fitzwater to Wharton, began in the mid-to- late 1880s when Italian immigrant Antonio Palumbo opened a boarding house in the neighborhood for other Italians. Soon, all types of Italian businesses popped up to serve the growing community.

Big props to the Italian immigrants who built such a lasting legacy. But times have changed. Shouldn't the name?

Let me back up for a minute, maybe give you a chance to catch your breath. If it makes you feel any better, this wasn't the only semi-sacrilegious idea I've been floating at the market lately.

After reading about Chink's Steaks finally changing its derogatory name, I wondered if Geno's - one of South Philly's iconic cheesesteak joints - would take down its "Speak English" sign.

Fat chance. The supervisor on duty made it clear that wasn't going to happen.

"They gave in, huh?" the guy said when I told him about Chink's changing its name to Joe's Steaks and Soda Shop.

Well, that's one way to look at it. I look at it as evolving. At the very least, a good business move in a city that's become increasingly global.

But, forget Geno's dated sign. Time to change the market's dated name.

I called Michele Gambino, associate business manager for the Italian Market's Businessmen's Association, and made my pitch.

"Ever consider renaming the Italian Market?" I asked. The silence that followed was so long, I thought she hung up on me.

"Hello?"

"Um . . . No."

Gambino explained. The business association not only embraces the changes the street has undergone, she said, it celebrates it.

"The new immigrants are doing exactly what the Italian immigrants did when they moved to Philadelphia," she said.

"But you have to be really careful about changing a brand that's been around so long."

It'd be like changing the name of the Liberty Bell, she said.

Or Central Park, said Pankaj "PJ" Dasani, the Indian gentleman who owns Dasani's market.

It may not be a completely accurate portrayal of the street right now, he agreed. But renaming it would not only diminish the brand, it would reflect the influx of new immigration for only so long.

"You know why there are so few Italian stores now, right? The children of the Italian immigrants didn't want to take over. They wanted to do other things with their lives."

And that's likely the same thing that will happen with the new immigrants, he said - including Dasani.

He has two sons. One wants to be a teacher; the other, a lawyer.

"Who knows who will buy the businesses next?" he said, as he took care of a customer. "The changes will just keep coming."


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

" @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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