Benjamin Franklin patiently waited for his number to be called at Beiler’s Bakery inside the Reading Terminal Market on Thanksgiving Eve morning. It was his responsibility to bring the cheesecake to Thanksgiving, and it was a duty he did not take lightly.
“I only buy cheesecake here, because it’s the best,” he said. “It makes me big-time popular on Thanksgiving.”
Franklin, a 54-year-old Philadelphia police officer who shares his name with Philly’s favorite Founding Father, has been braving the crowds at the Reading Terminal on the day before Thanksgiving every year for 20 years. He’s one of thousands of locals who wait until Thanksgiving Eve to do their shopping at the Reading Terminal, one of the country’s oldest indoor public markets.
People like Chanda Allen arrive before the Reading Terminal opens at 8 a.m. to be among the first to get inside. Allen, 49, of West Philadelphia, said she’d been “coming to the market forever” on the day before Thanksgiving.
“You want the best for Thanksgiving; that’s why I come down here,” she said. “Everything is fresher and the people are friendly.”
Vinnie Iovine, co-owner of Iovine Bros. Produce, has worked Thanksgiving Eve at the market for 28 years — the first six years as an employee of the produce store and then as its owner.
Iovine said for years the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was the busiest day in the market “hands down,” but this year he believes that Tuesday was the busiest and Wednesday will come in a close second.
“Today is a fun day because everyone is coming in very happy,” he said. “They know they’re off the next day or leaving work early.”
In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, Iovine said, his store goes through 22,000 pounds of collard greens. Sweet potatoes and string beans are the next-biggest sellers, with celery coming in a close fourth.
And everything is fresh — including the customers who joke around with Iovine and offer up high fives.
“Everybody comes out smiling today, I think they just love the atmosphere,” he said. “It’s so diverse and everyone gets along — but that happens every day at the market.”
Over at Godshall’s Poultry, Lisa Johnson, 54, and Gabi Westraadt, 24, chatted as they waited in line for their freshly killed turkeys. When Johnson arrived at 8 a.m. after driving more than an hour from her home in Middletown, Del., there were already 72 people in line in front of her.
Johnson said getting a Godshall’s turkey is a “longstanding” tradition in her family that dates back 40 years.
“This started with my grandmother and then my mother, and now I’ve picked it up and started doing it,” she said. “It’s by far the best turkey. If I come back every year, it has to be good.”
Johnson said she’ll be hosting 22 people for Thanksgiving dinner this year.
“I got the largest turkey they have, which is 28 to 30 pounds,” she said.
“That’s a pterodactyl, not a turkey,” said Westraadt, an au pair from South Africa, who was No. 96 in line for a turkey — at 8:30 a.m.