Amish market

Jake Beiler, left, and Leroy Stoltzfus, of Beiler's Bar-B-Que in the Joppatowne Plaza farmers' market, prepare boneless beef and short ribs. (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox / August 17, 2012)

Naomi Stoltzfus, a young Amish woman, pushed a cart full of soda she'd just bought at Redner's Warehouse Market across the parking lot of Joppatowne Plaza to another section of the shopping center, where she planned to resell the beverages at the food stall where she works.

Stoltzfus is employed at Kreative Kitchens, a salad and sandwich shop in the Amish Market, which occupies part of the Joppa Market Place section of the plaza.

"We get a lot of ingredients for the salads from Redner's," Stoltzfus said on a recent Friday.

But the appreciation between the grocer and the Amish merchants appears to go only one way.

Redner's, a Pennsylvania chain with about 40 locations, has sued the plaza's owner, Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., contending that the roughly half-dozen Amish food booths inside the sprawling marketplace are siphoning business away from the grocer and should be evicted.

An accountant hired by Redner's figured the grocery chain had lost about $2.3 million because of the Amish Market, according to court documents.

If Redner's is successful in court, Stoltzfus and the rest of the Amish Market workers could be sent packing.

The Amish stalls include a bake shop, a fudge and candy vendor, a meat merchant, and a seafood and produce stand.

The suit has been dragging on since last year, but a federal judge could decide as early as next month whether the Amish Market's operation violates the terms of Redner's lease, which prohibits competing grocery businesses from opening in the plaza.

The nature of the Amish Market — including whether it qualifies as an "ethnic" or "specialty" food store — was at the center of a seven-day bench trial that ended in mid-August.

The case might seem an unfair fight — a handful of Amish shopkeepers versus a grocery chain — but the Amish have a formidable ally in the Cordish Cos. Cordish argues that the Amish Market falls within a term of the lease that makes exceptions for ethnic markets.

Moreover, Cordish contended in court papers that Redner's has "suffered no economic harm that may be reasonably attributed to the Amish farmers' market."

On a recent Friday, customers crowded the Amish Market, picking up sweets and spare ribs to take home and buying sandwiches to eat in the restaurant booths in the center of the market.

"I really like the Amish," said Dundalk resident Debbie Sachs, who was buying stuffed chicken breasts. "I like what they stand for, and I like their belief in God."

Of the chicken breasts, she said: "They're wonderful."

Kyonna Price, of Edgewood, who was selecting prepared foods from Beiler's Bar-B-Que, another Amish stall, said her husband would be upset if the Amish Market was forced to close. "He likes the baked goods," she said.

Redner's signed a lease in November 2005 with Joppatowne G.P. Limited Partnership, a division of the Cordish Cos., and became an anchor tenant of the shopping center on Joppa Farm Road off Pulaski Highway in Harford County.

The grocery chain agreed to pay Cordish more than $12 million over a 20-year lease, according to court filings. The lease with Cordish prohibited the Baltimore developer from renting to another business that would have more than 6,000 square feet dedicated to groceries unless it was an ethnic or specialty food store.

While Cordish argues that the Amish Market falls within the bounds of this exception, Redner's says there is nothing distinctly Amish about the goods sold in the Amish booths.

The parties also disagree over how much space the Amish vendors occupy in the market.