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Penn graduate Annie Allman stepped into the role of general manager on Jan. 5 for the historical Reading Terminal Market. 

Credit: Vanessa Huang

Penn graduate Annie Allman aims to to help Reading Terminal Market survive the pandemic after stepping into the role of general manager.

Reading Terminal Market, located on N. 12th Street in Philadelphia, is one of the oldest and largest public markets in the country, housing nearly 80 small businesses. The former general manager, Conor Murphy, stepped down in December after filling the role at the onset of the pandemic. Allman, a 1988 College graduate, who hopes to utilize her previous experience in marketing to increase foot traffic at the Philadelphia institution, became general manager on Jan. 5.

Reading Terminal has consistently relied on three major sources of foot traffic: conventions, tourism, and office commuters, Allman said. With travel bans to the United States, social distancing restrictions, and a general shift to an online work environment, the number of visitors has fallen significantly.

Allman said that while all of the merchants have experienced hardship as a result of the pandemic, the businesses that have suffered the most are restaurant-style merchants that sell “prepared foods,” such as sandwiches. 

London Faust, a Reading Terminal spokesperson, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Reading Terminal saw a 50% decrease in customers from 2019 to 2020. In October, the market launched a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to continue its operations during the pandemic.

After less than a month in her new role, Allman said the situation has improved but she is still determining how to generate more foot traffic and create long-term solutions to keep the market open. 

“My immediate focus is on the basics of the hospitality business,” she said. “What does the exterior of the building look like? What does the interior look like? Is it easy to find clear information about the business?”

The market has been trying to accommodate as many customers as it can, Allman said. Following recent relaxations on dining policies, visitors to the market can now take advantage of indoor and outdoor seating in addition to a curbside pickup service. 

Some students who have visited the market within the last few weeks expressed concerns that the uptick in foot traffic could pose issues for enforcement of public safety guidelines. 

“The quality of the food has not changed at all, but it was crowded, which is a little strange, given the times,” College first year Sam Charney said. 

College first year Annie Cheng said she was surprised to hear that the market was struggling financially during the pandemic, but glad that the Philadelphia landmark received the necessary support to stay open. Reading Terminal was recently declared the number one farmer's market in the country.

"I think it’s really living history,” Allman said. “From a national and international standpoint over the last many years, Reading Terminal has become such a hot spot for tourism and inventions that a lot of people may have lost sight of what it really is. What is so important is that it feeds Philadelphia.” 

Allman comes from a marketing background, having been the senior director of loyalty and retention marketing at Comcast and the senior vice president of strategic marketing at Encore Boston Harbor. She said her prior experience has helped her tremendously in her new role supporting Reading Terminal during the pandemic. 

“I really think it’s one of those rare spaces that is truly welcoming to all people regardless of your background or your socio-economic level,” she said. “It is this incredible space where people can come together and everyone feels comfortable.”