As Philadelphians eagerly greeted the city’s second Trader Joe’s, on Arch Street, about a mile east, a smaller food store was opening its doors for the second day.
Root Market, a pop-up grocery store, opened at 216 Market St. on Monday, launched by former private chef Claire Phelan and Margaret Gushue, a longtime home baker. Located in the former Silence Dogood’s Tavern, the shop will be open through the end of the year. But if the idea takes off, Gushue and Phelan hope to move to a permanent space with expanded inventory, culinary instruction, and community events, like book clubs and live music nights.
Root’s counters are currently stocked with about a dozen fruit and vegetable options from small-farm co-op Lancaster Farm Fresh: cauliflower, Jonagold apples, sweet potatoes, baby eggplant, and heirloom tomatoes. Other locally sourced products include Reanimator coffee, Soom tahini and chocolate sweet tahini spread, Lost Bread Co. bread and pretzel shortbread cookies, and preserves from Fifth of a Farm Creations.
The shelves feature more than 100 specialty items, sourced from all over — Sichuan chili oil, single-origin spices, snack pouches of olives, Masala chai concentrate, mango-apricot chutney, and dill pickle-flavored pistachios. They are supplemented by pantry staples like canned beans and Dijon mustard and boxed goods, like Ghirardelli Double Chocolate brownie mix and Annie’s mac and cheese.
“We found a lot of the interesting condiments through Instagram, looking at what was new and exciting,” Gushue said, noting that Root was initially designed with a young professional demographic in mind. “For the pantry staples, we tried to pick the best version of each one. I’ve had that [Ghirardelli] brownie mix beat out so many of my homemade versions.”
The market is intended to be a resource not only for fresh ingredients — which Phelan and Gushue felt were lacking in Old City — but also cooking inspiration.
“We wanted to take some of the emotional labor out of cooking so that there doesn’t need to be any stress when you’re looking at something like a romanesco cauliflower, that you want because it’s beautiful, but can’t figure out what you’d do with it,” Phelan said.
A recipe of the week greets shoppers at the front of the store; this week, it’s a warm butternut squash and chickpea salad. Pantry items have handwritten suggestions on how to utilize them. (Ideas for sumac, the lemony Middle Eastern spice, included sprinkling onto fries, hummus, and salmon.)
Gushue and Phelan say their inventory will respond to what the neighborhood wants. A “Community Input Book” sits on one of the windowsills, already marked up with notes from people asking for rice noodles, cashew cheese, dried beans, and additional in-store seating.
“Our goal is to make this feel like how a community shop would’ve felt back in the day, where the shopkeepers remember your name and it’s just more of a personal experience,” Phelan said.