After fire in Fells Point, residents eye options for gutted space

As her three young children looked on, Carla Martinez walked under the green and white awning of the Food Fresh Mart on South Broadway in Fells Point Tuesday evening and peered through a glass door — one of few views left into the building, which was otherwise boarded up after a five-alarm blaze gutted the structure Monday.

Martinez, who lives in the neighborhood, said in Spanish that the market had been one of the few sources of cheap groceries in the neighborhood, and she hoped it would be replaced by a similar market.

Around the back of the four-story building, where a large brick wall had collapsed and the charred interior of the market stood open to the rainy sky above, Sara Cullinan had a different idea for the space.

"I just want them to put in a WholeFoods or something like that," said Cullinan, whose front steps are almost directly across South Register Street from the crumbled wall. "I want the neighborhood to get gentrified."

What the space will eventually be converted into was just one of many unanswered questions Tuesday evening, after the fire that filled Fells Point with black, acrid smoke, shut off power, closed streets and forced many businesses to close for the evening.

Fire officials and arson detectives said they still had not determined the cause of the blaze, nor did they have total damage estimates.

Records of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation say Food Fresh Mart's right to operate in the state had been forfeited after its license expired at the end of last year. The owner, listed as Kwee Mee LLC of Ellicott City, could not be reached for comment.

The space isn't likely to be filled any time soon.

On South Register late Tuesday evening, James Luckler, 60, of Baltimore, steadily cleared and rearranged the piles of debris that had crumbled to the ground, tossing bits of metal and scraps of wood to one side.

A contractor with Platinum Board Up Service of Baltimore, Luckler said he was clearing out the gaping hole at the back of the building so it could be boarded up. The company had already boarded nearly 30 windows on the front of the building.

Cullinan, whose power was out until 10 a.m. Tuesday, said firefighters had worked to control and extinguish the fire and then to fully douse the building's shell until about 2 a.m. Tuesday, and other crews — including Luckler's — had been there since.

"I just hope they put in something nice," Cullinan said.

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