Saturday, February 10, 2007

Foster's is leaving the Reading Terminal Market. Proprietor Ken Foster intends to devote all his entrepreneurial energies to expanding his successful presence in Old City. No timing announced other than "later this year" according to the newsletter distributed to merchants.

Foster left bookselling to open the RTM kitchenware store. It soon outgrew its old location (now Blue Mountain Vineyards) and expanded to today's store.

The history of Foster's current space is interesting. When I first started shopping at the RTM in the early 1980s it was the home of the Market Diner, a stainless-steel sided structure within the RTM that, if placed on a roadside, would have been the pluperfect diner. In the mid-1980s the Market Diner was taken over by Jack McDavid and renamed the Down Home Diner. (The illuminated clock from the Market Diner still hangs in today's Down Home Diner on the opposite side of the market; some of the booths and other furnishings, including stainless steel, were transferred there from the original.)

When the Down Home Diner moved the market turned the space into a seating area. Later (about 10 or 12 years ago, iirc) under then RTM Manager Marcy Rogovin a show kitchen was built. Frequent cooking demonstrations and special events centered around the kitchen drew hundreds of spectators at a time, including a series of all-day cook-a-thons in which chefs from local restaurants would rotate throughout the day preparing a wide range of dishes.

Since Foster's expansion into the space the kitchen has been significantly under-utilized. Today it is used only for a modest schedule of cooking classes. As part of a store the kitchen is totally unsuitable for attention-getting events. Now when a demonstration needs to be held with room for more than a half dozen spectators (like the recent Bobby Flay-Delilah Winder mac 'n cheese cookoff), a temporary kitchen must be set up in center court.

Foster's impending move out of the market presents an opportunity to revitalize the kitchen and redevelop it as a traffic-generating facility, which would be good for all merchants at the RTM. Certainly a kitchenware vendor needs to be found to replace Foster's, a project Market Manager Paul Steinke plans to pursue, but there's no need for that vendor to locate in the same space as Foster's.

Instead, the existing kitchen should be returned to its original importance, with a seating area reintroduced. To compensate for the loss of rentable space, the RTM could take the existing seating adjacent to the Fair Food Farmstand and return it to vendor space (which it was until about three or four years ago).

With a restored seating area, the kitchen can once again become the center of culinary celebration and education it was meant to be and serve as traffic-building tool for all the RTM's merchants.

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