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Baltimore's Northeast Market closes after video shows rats inside, days after same problem at Lexington Market

For the second time in less than a week, a viral video depicting vermin scampering about has led to the temporary closure of one of Baltimore’s public markets.

The Baltimore Public Markets Corp. closed the Northeast Market at 2101 E. Monument St. at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday after a video surfaced showing a pair of rats scurrying through one of its aisles. The shuttering followed Lexington Market’s closure Friday after a rat was spotted checking out treats in a bakery display case.

Although the Northeast Market was expected to reopen Wednesday morning, Stacey Pack, a spokeswoman for the markets, said the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. was working with the Baltimore City Health Department and a pest-control company to treat rodent infestations at its six markets.

“We are taking action at all the public markets,” Pack said.

Her group also operates the Avenue Market, Broadway Market, Cross Street Market, Hollins Market and Lexington Market. Four of the six public markets are under construction or slated for sweeping upgrades in the years ahead, which could aid in their fight against vermin. Northeast Market was renovated in 2013.

Some customers, like Baltimore resident Sharon Calloway, said they were shocked to see the Northeast Market closed Tuesday.

“I grew up with this market,” she said. “My grandmother brought me here.”

Situated near the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Northeast Market serves a mix of hospital workers and neighbors. The market has been in operation since 1885 and houses about three dozen vendors.

Calloway said she often comes to the market for breakfast or lunch and was surprised to hear it was closed Tuesday. But the presence of rats in Northeast Market drew plenty of eyerolls on social media from other customers who were not as stunned to see rodents frolicking through their lunch spot.

Last fall, the pest-control company Orkin released a study that deemed Baltimore the eighth “rattiest” city in the U.S. Rodents can transmit diseases directly to humans who handle them, or through their feces, urine, saliva or bites.

Redevelopment of most of the markets — some of which date to the 1780s — could help keep the pests at bay. But market managers also bear responsibility for keeping their spaces clean to avoid attracting rats, said Arsh Mirmiran, whose firm is redeveloping Cross Street Market.

Construction began on Cross Street Market in Federal Hill earlier this year and is expected to continue into 2019. Caves Valley Partners, a Towson-based firm, is refreshing the market with a $7.3 million overhaul aimed at improving the infrastructure and layout.

Health department records do not show any stalls at Cross Street Market that have been shut down for rodent problems since 2012. But Mirmiran, a partner in Caves Valley, said his group found evidence of a historic rodent infestation after taking over management of the market.

“We noticed that there was more rodent activity and insect activity than we wanted, and so we brought in a new pest-control company and extermination company and attacked the problem head-on,” he said.

Crews gutted the interior, which Mirmiran hopes will help keep rats out of the finished market.

“There’s nowhere for anyone to hide,” he said.

Market management and tenants will also have to adhere to strict guidelines, including cleaning stalls multiple times each day, and storing food off the ground and in sealed containers..

“We are going to run an incredibly tight ship such that any historical problems never occur,” he said.

Lexington Market is another centuries-old market that has struggled with rats. Stalls at Lexington Market have been closed for health code violations at least 10 times since 2012, according to health department records. Most recently, city health inspectors closed Buttercup Bakery for a rodent infestation and the adjacent Berger’s Bakery for a fly infestation after inspecting them late Thursday. The health department sent inspectors to the market after the department received video footage of a rat darting across cakes and cookies in a display case at Buttercup Bakery. Market managers closed the entire market at 11:30 a.m. Friday, and it reopened Saturday morning.

The market, which has operated on the same site in West Baltimore since 1782, is on track for a major overhaul. Under a plan presented by the city in late 2016, the building would be razed and rebuilt on the site of a nearby parking lot.

In Southwest Baltimore, the redevelopment of Hollins Market is one piece of a broader plan by War Horse Cities to improve the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood for which it’s named. War Horse Cities officials could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.

On the other side of the harbor, the two Broadway Market buildings in Fells Point are also being redeveloped. The market’s north shed will be renovated first and is expected to open in 2019 with space for at least 10 vendors. And the south shed will ultimately become home to the Choptank, a crab house and seafood restaurant run by the Atlas Restaurant Group. A spokesman for the Atlas group declined to comment.

No stalls at Broadway Market have been closed by the health department in the last six years, according to health department records. Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana S. Wen was not available to comment Tuesday.

The Avenue Market in Upton reopened in 2012 after a renovation.

Pack said the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. is “working around the clock” and implementing new protocols at each market to combat the rats. She declined to specify how the markets plan to change their operations to address rat infestations.

“Market management has a very aggressive pest control protocol in place, but because of the recent occurrences we are intensifying our efforts in all our public markets,” a statement from the markets corporation said.

None of the other markets are expected to close, Pack said.

Robert Thomas, executive director of Baltimore Public Markets Corp., declined to comment.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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