Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another Lunch Vendor Wants Market Stall

Mural at South Street pizza shop
Rick Olivieri of Rick's Steaks isn't the only hawker of street food who'd like to set up shop in the Reading Terminal Market. Lorenzo & Son Pizza of South Street also wants in.

Lorenzo's is among a backlog of businesses who have submitted applications to rent space at the landmark public market.

Neither Rick nor Lorenzo has much of a chance. By its own count, 31 of the market's 76 vendors are "food court" businesses, which are technically limited to no more than the greater of one-third of the number of vendors or one-third of the floor space of the market. Since the raw numbers show 40 percent of the merchants to be in the "food court" category, the market manages to stay within the guidelines only by virtue of the square footage numbers.

Even though Paul Steinke, the market's general manager, told me earlier this month that the market was well within these guidelines, he'd be hard-pressed to bring in another vendor dedicated to the lunch crowd. Steinke has to keep his focus on bringing in sellers of food for consumption at home if the market is to retain its 120-year-old tradition as well as public and political support. If the balance tips too far in favor of the food court merchants, the market would be a considerably less attractive place for thousands of shoppers like me who buy regularly from its meat, seafood, produce, dairy and other food product vendors.

The only types of businesses selling food for on-premises consumption that have a chance would be those offering either something now unavilable or that also devotes considerable space and effort to selling food for preparing or eating at home. Neither Rick's nor Lorenzo's would fit either criteria.

There's good reason why Rick's wants to return and Lorenzo's wants in: traffic. Last year's 6.35 million visitors translates to 122,000 potential patrons a week, most of them hungry tourists and Center City workers. With that kind of traffic you could make a considerable profit selling chocolate-covered dust bunnies. (I think Chocolate by Mueller does; if not, you could have bought a chocolate heart -- with aorta and veins -- for Valentine's Day at Mueller's.)

Of the five categories of merchants at the market the Food Court vendors showed the biggest sales gain last year, up more than 13 percent. The Purveyors (produce, seafood, meat, etc.) recorded the least growth at 2.3 percent. Pennsylvania Dutch merchants saw their sales increase 9.0 percent. Food Basket vendors (sellers of other grocery items, including dairy products, coffee, baked goods, spices) had sales growth of 8.3 percent, while Mercantile (non-food) vendors were up 8.0 percent.

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