When Paul Steinke, 49, became general manager of the Reading Terminal Market in 2001, a voice in his head cautioned him that he might be joining a dying institution.

Hard to imagine why, considering that the market, especially crowded around big food holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, attracts 115,000 visitors a week.

One of America's oldest and largest public markets, it is also one of the city's top tourist attractions.

Question: What worried you in 2001?

Answer: I was afraid that Whole Foods and Trader Joe's - that the supermarket model as exemplified by Whole Foods - would erode our market share.

Q: What happened instead?

A: What happened after I started was the growth of the local food movement, the growth of food as entertainment, the cable TV shows that we are fortunate to get lots of play on, the growth of the downtown residential population, and the growth of Philadelphia as a visitor destination. That has all happened in the last decade.

Q: What worries you now?

A: I worry that the seasonal outdoor farmers' market sector could be a threat. That has exploded in the last decade.

Q: How do you balance serving tourists and residents?

A: My No. 1 mantra when it comes to that is, if we serve the locals well, the tourists will come. So we have protected our fresh-food vendors.

Q: How do you do that?

A: We charge less for them to be here, and most of our advertising and marketing is geared to supporting them. We do very little advertising in tourism, because we think if we do a good job attracting local Philadelphia business, the tourists will love our authenticity and they'll love our Philadelphia character. Then the shoppers are part of the attraction for the tourists.

Q: As a nonprofit, Reading Terminal Market Corp. has a politically intense board, comprised of well-connected representatives from the mayor's office, City Council, the Preservation Alliance.

A: It has been surprisingly free of political interference. I've never been asked to lease to someone because of a political connection. I've never been pressured because of political connections.

Q: Really?

A: Some might think in Philadelphia that's not possible, but it's true. It has been absolutely possible, and that's been the reality.

Q: Not that this is related, but please explain Scrapplefest, the fall feast of scrapple merchandise at the market.

A: Growing up, it was a regular feature of the breakfast table. My father made big breakfasts for our family on the weekend. It was his only time in the kitchen, and he would always have scrapple. I can't tell you that I invented Scrapplefest, because it started in the 1990s. But I revived it in 2007.

Q: Do you cook it at home?

A: Just fried on both sides, and I usually eat it with ketchup. That's how I was raised, but I've since come to appreciate apple butter, or alternatively, maple syrup.

Q: Does your partner like it?

A: He won't eat it. And he'll light a candle to get rid of the smell. A nice vanilla candle, and 10 minutes later, you can't tell I had scrapple. He usually sleeps late, so I get to wallow in my scrappleness for a couple of hours.

PAUL STEINKE

Title: General manager, Reading Terminal Market Corp.

Hometown: West Philadelphia.

Family: David Ade, partner.

Diplomas: Northeast High School; Pennsylvania State University, business administration.

Previous job: Founding executive director, University City District.

Spare time: Serves on several preservation boards, active with the William Way LGBT Community Center. EndText

READING TERMINAL MARKET

Location: 12th and Filbert Streets, Philadelphia.

Ownership: Nonprofit.

Merchants: 79.

Annual revenue: $4.3 million last fiscal year.

Square footage: 78,000.

History: After the city banned most street markets in 1859, two predecessor markets opened indoors near 12th and Market Streets. Reading Terminal Market opened in 1892.

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MORE ONLINE

Paul Steinke on merchants' battles with city regulations, at www.inquirer.com/jobbing.

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215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen