This is the final chapter of the Cook Book Stall, the shop that for nearly 35 years has put the reading, as it were, in Reading Terminal Market.
Jill Ross, who bought the shop in 2003 from founder Nancy Marcus, said Dec. 29 would be its last day. The shelves are gradually emptying, as buyers are lured by signs advertising 20 percent discounts. When asked, Ross acknowledges that she is closing. The market has not announced a new tenant.
It would be easy to blame competition, but Ross, 46, said there was much more to her decision, which was a year in the making. “Mostly, I am just ready to move on and I’m ready to try something new,” she said. “I’ve been here 15 years. I think that’s a good run for any business.”
The online world — recipe websites and discounters such as Amazon — does not help matters. “There are some great websites, and you can look up what to make with Cornish game hen on the computer as opposed to leafing through a book,” Ross said. “But I do have people that are tried-and-true cookbook addicts. I have people that come at least once or twice a year. There are still people that want them.”
She is turning her attention to operating a dog-walking service called Daisy’s Gang, after the dog that she and her son, Emerson, 11, are raising in their Queen Village home. “She sort of inspires me to be a better person, and I think if I have more dogs around me, I’ll be an even better person,” she said. Also, she hopes to be licensed as a personal trainer.
“I’ve slowly been trying to figure out my game plan and [learn] how I want to run a business that’s not a cookbook stall,” she said.
Ross said she grew up “all over” but mainly in Oklahoma. She was the sole vegetarian in her family, cooking out of The Moosewood Cookbook. Ross and her then-boyfriend had moved to Philadelphia from Europe in 2002. “It was the first week in the States and it was a Saturday and it was busy. We were walking through the market like you do when you’re new. Nancy had a little sign that said help wanted. I was like, “Oh, I’ll do that until I either finish school or I’ll maybe figure out what I want to do with my life.'” A year or so later, she bought the business.
Ross’ inventory at its peak was diverse. “I kind of stayed away from a lot of the Food Network people, because I figured you could find those anywhere,” she said. If a book were in print, she would track it down — much to the delight of local chefs building their libraries. She has become a celebrity in the restaurant community. “You go to a restaurant and somebody sends you out something,” she said. “That’s pretty cool.
At home, she bakes. “Whenever a new baking book comes out, you can guarantee at least one recipe’s getting tested by yours truly,” she said.
She also maintained a strict policy of not allowing cellphone photos in the stand because “people take pictures of the recipes, or they’ll take a picture and then they’ll go buy it online.”
Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the closing will be the business’ relationship to her son. On Wednesday during a lull, Ross paused and pointed behind the counter. “He used to sleep underneath here in a little crib,” she said. “He thinks that he owns the market. He’ll walk in, he’ll go over to Elizabeth [Halen, of Flying Monkey Bakery & Condiment] and tell her jokes or try to get a free cookie, or go over to La Divisa [Meats] and try to get a job.
“I asked him what he thought of the store, and me not doing it anymore,” Ross said. “His first thought was, ‘Does that mean we can’t go back to the market?’ I was like, ‘We can go back and enjoy it more now — we can shop and stuff.’ He was like, ‘That’s fine, then. As long as we can keep going there, I don’t mind.’ “