Friday, February 25, 2011

RTM Unveils Avenue D Plan 
Work Could Be Complete By Autumn

Making Avenue D as lively and inviting as the other aisles in the Reading Terminal Market is the aim of a $2.7 million design unveiled Thursday. The detailed plans for the aisle which zigs and zags around the back wall and rest rooms in the rear of the market were shown at meetings with market merchants by Paul Steinke, the RTM general manger, and representatives of the designers, Friday Architects/Planners.

The construction could be completed as early as October.

Among the key components:
  • Expansion of Center Court through relocation of Flying Monkey Patisserie;
  • Addition of a multi-purpose area to be used for general public seating and for private meetings, in space currently housing Miscellanea Libri and merchant storage;
  • Relocation of the demonstration kitchen so as to visually become part of center court and serve as an extension of the multi-purpose room;
  • More than doubling the number of stalls in the women's rest room; and
  • Addition of about 1,300 square feet of leaseable space.
Steinke said the expansion of the rest rooms -- the fixture count will also be doubled in the men's room -- was critical given the growth of visitors to the market. Last year about 6.1 million shoppers, tourists and center city workers passed through the market's doors, making it a more popular attraction than the combined attendance of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

The renovated rest rooms, along with two family rest rooms, will be built in space currently occupied by La Cucina and market operational, security and maintenance offices. Steinke said stalls in the women's rest room will increase to 16 from 7. There is frequently a line out the door of the facility, sometimes reaching as far as the shoe shine stand during peak periods.

Current Avenue D (right), redesign at left.
Click on image for enlargement.
If bids come in within budget, a construction manager will be named in early March, with major construction to start by mid-May. A six-month construction schedule is anticipated, which makes completion before the holiday shopping season starts possible if there are no significant delays.

Some work has already been completed: the activation of a new, second freight elevator last week is critical, because much of the existing dry and cold storage on the main floor used by merchants will be moved to a reconfigured basement, increasing the need for reliable basement access. A contractor is already lined up to install the new coolers and build the storage areas in the basement, which also provides an opportunity for merchants to expand their cool and dry storage. That work is expected to start in April.

Because of existing refrigeration equipment, ambient temperatures in the basement are frequently in excess of 80 degrees. A ventilation system is expected to lower the temperature to at least 75 degrees, utilizing the removed warmth in a water-heating system.

The multi-purpose area against the back wall at center court will have moveable glass walls, so that private groups can be accommodated while maintaining a visual openness. Most of the time, according to Steinke, the multi-purpose area would be used for public seating like the rest of center court, but the capability to rent to groups will enhance market income.

When the multi-purpose area is open there will be no net change in the number of seats available to the public. However, when it is rented out there will be a reduction of as much as 60 places. For that reason, some merchants have asked the market to commit to not leasing the multi-purpose room during peak periods like the Flower Show.

The demonstration kitchen, now housed as part of La Cucina, the cooking school business operated by Anna Florio, will be moved adjacent to the new multi-purpose room. She is expected to continue the business at the new location.

Steinke said the relocated kitchen will enhance special events at the market. As an example he cited last year's ice cream festival which, among other attractions, included a demonstration by Georges Perrier making cherries jubilee. The market had to construct a temporary, barely adequate kitchen in center court to handle the demonstration.

Avenue D takes a dog leg in the area adjoining Iovine Brothers Produce and L. Halteman. Originally Avenue D ran straight through the market from Filbert Street to Arch Street. However, the need to build fire stair towers in conjunction with construction of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, whose grand hall and many smaller meeting rooms occupy the space above the market, required the zig-zag. Halteman's will lose some space by the straightening of Avenue D, which would be made up by expanding into some of the space occupied by Market Blooms, which is leaving that space to concentrate on its Avenue A location along the 12th Street side of the market.

Under the plan Avenue D will continue in a straight line from its Filbert Street entrance to the area where the new lavatories will be located. This provides additional space for the multi-purpose room, demonstration kitchen, and new stalls along the north wall. Flying Monkey Patisserie will be moved to existing cold storage space, while the shoe shine stand and Miscellanea Libri will move to north along Avenue D.

Steinke told merchants at Thursday's meetings that they are welcome to submit proposals for the 1,300 square feet of added leaseable space. He said their proposals would be considered on the same basis as those already received from outsiders who wish to become market merchants. He emphasied that in judging the proposals the market would adhere to its guidelines: no chains, no franchises; only owner-operated businesses would be considered. Also, decisions would adhere to the market's goals of limiting Food Court (lunch) vendors to 30 percent of total RTM leaseable space.

The renovation program also includes an expansion of the market's management office space, currently located on a mezzanine. The space would be extended over Tootsie's Salad Bar to accommodate a conference room, which the market currently lacks, and create additional desk space.

The project will be financed by a combination of a low-interest loan from Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, bank financing, and the market's existing sinking fund. Proceeds from Saturday Night's "Valentine to the Market" party will also benefit the project.

Friday, February 18, 2011

EBT for Farm To City

Recipients of the SNAP -- the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which used to be called the Food Stamp program -- will be able to use their Electronic Benefits Transfer cards at Farm to City farmers' markets this summer. FTC's addition of the EBT reader machines follows the Food Trust's implementation of the program at most of its farmers' markets in recent years.

The Reading Terminal Market, which is in discussions with Farm To City's Bob Pierson to acquire the operation, served as conduit for the U.S. Department of Agriculture monies funding the EBT installations, a grant of about $100,000.

The market's proposed acquisition of Farm To City, announced in late summer, stalled late in the year, but Paul Steinke, the market's general manager, says talks have resumed. However, so much time has passed that the RTM has to start its "due diligence" all over again.
Up and Down At The Market

After months of work, a new freight elevator is open for business at the Reading Terminal Market. The elevator, and its older twin, provide access to the basement storage and prep areas of the market.

State inspectors approved the new lift for service on Tuesday. Without the second elevator, merchants were forced to lug their goods from the basement via stairs whenever the older one conked out.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ochs, RTM  Squabble Over Lease

As reported by the Philadelphila Inquirer and Daily News, Reading Terminal Market has sued butcher Harry G. Ochs & Sons over back rent. Nick Ochs, who runs the business, told me this morning that the dispute, in his view, is over when he should have started to pay higher rents under the lease he signed in August. Nick is optimistic that the matter will be resolved and he will remain in the market. RTM General Manager Paul Steinke has told one and all that if Nick makes a dent in the back rent, the suit will be withdrawn.

This may be a useful moment to understand how the market establishes rents for its tenants. In essence what the market terms "Purveyors" like Ochs -- vendors who sell meat, fish and produce -- are subsidized by the other merchants, especially the "Food Court" merchants (lunch stalls). I've prepared a separate entry on how this works. You can find it by clicking here or on the "RTM Lease Structure" Pages item in the navigation column.

At least one merchant I spoke with complained that it's not fair if the market doesn't seek to collect full rent, as agreed to in the lease, from Ochs; that means other Purveyors, as well as other vendors, will in essence be subsidizing him.
Another Beer Garden Update

The Iovine brothers still haven't closed their deal to take over the Beer Garden and convert it to Molly Molloy's, an Irish pub. The last big hurdle, according to Jim Iovine, is approval by the LCB of the design. When the deal concludes, the Beer Garden will shut down for reconstruction. Alas, no way they can accomplish all that in time for the Flower Show in early March. A mid-spring opening is probably the best the Iovines can hope for.

The layout of the pub will be considerably different than the Beer Garden's, with the main entrance repositioned to Center Court near Flying Monkey. The bar, which sits in the middle of the space, will be moved to the area where public seating can now be found. There will be a long banquette against the far wall opposite the rear of the L. Halteman butcher shop.
St. Louis in Philadelphia

Pasta By George added cheese steaks and french fries last year, and along with them is a food I associate most with St. Louis: toasted ravioli.

Of course the ravioli is not actually "toasted". It's deep fried. Think fried wonton.

It's not the first St. Louis connection at the market. When I first started shopping there nearly 30 years ago, Salumeria featured some Italian deli meats from Joseph Volpe of that city's "Hill" neighborhood, home to Yogi Berra, Joe Gargiola and the Gateway City's closest approximation of South Philly. You can still buy Volpe product at a number of stores in the area, including DiBruno's. Before the U.S. legalized importation of Italian prociutto, Volpe's was one of the best you could buy; it's still an excellent product with good value.

Another St. Louis-Philadelphia similarity: German buttercake. Not all that surprising considering both cities have long-established German-American communities. But St. Louisans (who call their version Gooey Buttercake) are much more passionate about this baked good than we are. It comes in all sorts of different varieties. If you want to try it locally, take a trip to Haegele's Bakery in the Lower Northeast (Tacony), just two blocks off Frankford at the corner of Erdrick and Barnett.
Yes, We Have No Rotisserie Chickens

For more than a year Charlie Giunta fought Reading Terminal Market management for the right to sell rotisserie chicken at his butcher shop. He went so far as to win a court order last April upholding that right.

Giunta won in the law courts, but lost in the marketplace. His rotisserie machine has been unplugged for a couple months. Basically, Giunta didn't sell enough cooked chicken to justify the space the machine took up, so it's now awaiting pickup by its distributor.

Which is not to say you can't find rotisserie chicken at the market. Dienner's has a wall of it in the Amish section of the market, behind the Dutch Eating Place.