Hard times have been felt throughout the Reading Terminal Market. “The bar does 5 to 10% of what it normally does, and produce is down 50%,” says Jimmy Iovine, co-owner of Iovine Brothers Produce and Molly Malloy’s Pub.
Tootsie Iovine, owner of Tootsie’s Hot and Cold Buffet had to shut down her operation entirely. “I just knew right away that I was dead in the water,” she explains. After decades of working in the market and gaining sole ownership of Tootsie’s just two months before it closed down, Tootsie finds herself close to retirement and having to reinvent herself.
On October 7, 2020 a GoFundMe was established to fundraise for the nonprofit corporation that runs the market. The fundraising goal was set at $250,000 to make up for their largest annual fundraiser, “Party for the Market,” which was cancelled this year.
The GoFundMe was greeted with an outpouring of support from fans of the market; it even found an ally in Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy. “The first week of [the fundraiser] we had an incredible response in general,” says Conor Murphy, general manager of the market. “It really caught people’s attention once Dave got involved, we raised the money really quickly.”
Two and a half months after the GoFundMe was created, they’ve blown past the $250,000 mark. Murphy explains, “$208,000 (now $210,000) on the GoFundMe site, we received some offline donations… and then through Barstool Sports, Dave (Portnoy) and Penn National Gaming we raised another $150,000.”
In a video seen by more than 750,000 people Dave Portnoy says, “Reading Terminal Market, it’s going out of business because of COVID.” The Reading Terminal Market’s GoFundMe call to action reads: “We need your help to keep the lights on and power the building.”
But when asked if l market was under any threat, Murphy responds, “I don’t believe so.”
The fundraising money is specifically meant for the nonprofit Reading Terminal Market Corporation, not for vendors like Jimmy and Tootsie. Murphy explained that money raised through GoFundMe is going specifically toward “keeping operations going” and “responding to cleaning protocols,” along with establishing e-commerce solutions and curbside pick-up.
On the front lines of those new cleaning protocols is Antoine, a housekeeping supervisor in his sixth year at the market. “Out of 100%, I’m probably scared like 70%-75%,” says Antoine. “We’re at the most risk, we deal with the most people, and we deal with the trash.” He pointed out that through the pandemic “people who were the lowest became essential.”
Just two days before Thanksgiving, the lunchtime crowd at the market was sparse, yet it was still difficult to socially distance. Employees that would normally be too busy to talk to customers were available to talk with me extensively.
The Reading Terminal Market isn’t going anywhere, it never was. Donating to the market’s GoFundMe will not directly save your favorite sandwich shop or grocer from shutting down, but it will help the market provide tools to help vendors, and to pay for additional cleaning.