Italian immigrants started to sell items from Italy in front of St. Paul’s Church located in the 900 block of Christian Street. Eventually these merchants moved to S. 9th Street enabling them to sell their products 7 days a week. Most of the goods were sold from push carts similar to vendor carts in Italy. As time went on this way of selling products became “The Curb Stands” and the Merchants called themselves the “Curb Stand Merchants.” Merchants would push their carts onto S. 9 th street daily.
Produce would be ferried from New Jersey farms to S. 9 th Street. Many farmers took their carts onto the ferry and pushed their carts loaded with produce to S. 9th Street. Around 1904 Italians started to move into the brick and mortar stores. It was common for the family to operate the street level shop while living above their shops. Many merchants sold imported goods from Italy.
The community was somewhat self-contained as there was a bank, a funeral home, furniture store, tailor, seamstress, barber, doctor, dentist. The market continued to thrive and service the community with the opening of butchers, bakeries, a butter store, clothing shops, pharmacy, realtor, shoemaker, restaurants and bars. Ralph’s is still operating today as the oldest family owned Italian Restaurant in the country. There was a hospital at 10th & Carpenter called Community Hospital and a Movie Theatre which cost 10 cents to see a movie. Southeast High School and a third catholic church use to be on the 800 block of Christian Street.
The famous Palumbo’s started out as a boarding house for immigrants. Antonio Palumbo operated a boarding house for Italian Immigrants. His son Frank Palumbo opened the restaurant years later. The bank, coal yard, real estate agency, funeral home and newspaper were all operated by the Baldi Family. Victor Baldi started out as a curb stand merchant selling lemons. Families worked, lived, went to school all within the community. St. Mary Magdalen Church and School were built to accommodate the growing Italian population.
In 1914 The S. 9th Street shopping district was recognized as a business district. We were charted in 1915 by the City of Philadelphia. The first Association dues were .55 cents a year. Today, immigration is still the backbone of the district with the influx of Hispanics and Asians continuing our proud tradition of an immigrant community. S. 9th Street is a place for families to flourish while providing goods and services for the community.