A spruced-up, more cheerful version of the historic Broadway Market's south shed reopened Friday morning, and customers found such new offerings as Polish dishes made from scratch and food cooked while they wait.
The mix of four tenants in the market, which dates to 1784, will be familiar to longtime shoppers: Sal's Seafood, Vikki's Fells Point Deli, Lucia's and Sophia's Place. But the space in which the merchants showcase their wares is not only vastly more inviting but also allows them to expand their menus.
For instance, the $750,000 renovation allowed both Salvador Ayala, owner of Sal's Seafood, and Zofia Para, owner of Sophia's Place, to install kitchens that can cook dishes to order.
"For the 25 years that I've been here, people have been asking why I didn't serve hot food," Para said. "Now, I have a stove in the back and can make Polish dishes such as pierogies, stuffed cabbage, crepes and Polish soups."
To celebrate the south shed's reopening after four months of construction, the gleaming black granite countertop was lined with free samples of pierogies, cabbage and delicate, European-style cookies drizzled with chocolate and dusted with powdered sugar.
The reopening of the south shed includes most of the merchants who were previously located in the north shed, which now has been closed for similar renovations. (However, the Broadway Cafe, which is located in the north shed, will continue to do business during construction.)
Developer David Holmes said that when the north shed reopens in early 2013, it is expected to house one large, upscale shop, perhaps similar to the New York-based gourmet grocery, Dean & DeLuca. The Broadway Cafe will eventually relocate, Holmes said.
"Historically, the Broadway Market started with 10 or 12 merchants," he said.
"But the small stalls found they couldn't compete with Whole Foods just a five-minute walk away. We asked the four remaining tenants what they would ideally want in a new space, and then we basically gutted the building. It was a thrill for them to be able to play a role in designing their businesses."
The market's face-lift is part of a larger project, Holmes sayid, to renovate 21 buildings in the 600 block of Broadway between Aliceanna and Fleet streets. He estimates the renovation will bring in between 15 and 18 new tenants and add more than 20,000 square feet of retail space to Fells Point.
As Holmes envisages it, whether the new occupants sell hats or sliced ham, they'll naturally patronize one another.
"The market, the shops and the apartments — they'll all tie into each other," he said.
The refurbished south shed is light and airy, beneath a ceiling of varnished wood planks. The most noticeable change is the row of windows flanking the length of the building on both sides. The added illumination even gives a brighter glow to the stained-glass window above the south transom.
In the past, the closed-box atmosphere of the market discouraged shoppers from venturing inside. Now, passers-by will be lured indoors by a glimpse of Ayala laying out rows of white-floured hake fillets, or a box filled with crabs climbing over one another and waving pincers.
In addition to adding a new menu of hot foods cooked on the premises, including clam chowder and crab cakes, Sal's staff will begin steaming and sauteing fresh seafood to order.
"We'll take advance orders, too," Ayala says. "We don't know how big this part of our business will be, but it's exciting."
Vikki Powers, owner of Vikki's Deli, said that attracting customers was an uphill battle when the market was half-empty.
"People would walk in, see the closed stalls and walk out without knowing that we were still open," she says. "Now, they'll come in and stay."
Lucia's owner Joann Cha is excited about her new seating area of half a dozen small tables. Now, customers won't have to eat their pizzas and sandwiches standing up if they can't find bench space outdoors when the weather is sunny and warm.
"In the past, the market was underutilized," says Bill Cassidy, who estimates that he's been a customer of both Lucia's and Vikki's for more than two decades. "It was only half-occupied.
"Now, everyone's back, and the market is much more open and attractive. And the smiles of the staff are as big as ever."