New, returning vendors poised to reopen Annapolis Market House

A decade since the 2003 tropical storm that began its fiscal and operational woes, Market House in downtown Annapolis is expected to reopen in the coming weeks with a lineup of vendors selling falafel, gelato, sandwiches and crab cakes from the historic building.

Since Tropical Storm Isabel blew through and flooded the building in 2003, the Market House has operated in fits and starts as the city struggled to repair the building and attract a stable lineup of vendors.

Between renovations and lawsuits from former tenants, the city has spent millions of dollars on the Market House since 2003.

Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen said in recent weeks that the Market House is finally poised to reopen.

"I'm confident the Market House is going to be very successful," Cohen said.

Construction has been underway for several weeks, with vendors renovating stalls and installing equipment. Cohen said he's been so excited about the progress that he posts pictures of construction work on his Twitter account.

The vendors who complete construction will open as soon as they are ready, rather than waiting for all of the stalls to be ready, Cohen said.

The first vendor to open likely will be Amsterdam Falafelshop. Arianne Bennett, owner of the company's original shop in Washington, D.C., said she's "really psyched" to open an Annapolis location. She hopes it will open within the week.

"This is just a very exciting segue for us. It's more exciting than going into a mall. It feels a like a small community, a bunch of small businesses," she said.

Guillermo Barrios will bring Firenze Gelateria back to the Market House. He also operated in the building the last time it was open in 2011.

"It's been a long wait, but we are finally making it happen," he said.

Barrios said he's a couple weeks away from opening — which is good timing, considering gelato is a largely seasonal business, he said. He's planning to sell 24 flavors made on-site at the Market House.

Local restaurateur Harvey Blonder, who owns Buddy's Crabs & Ribs in downtown Annapolis, is overseeing four businesses going into the Market House: Yellowfin Seafood & Oyster Bar, Carl's Corned Beef & Delicatessen, Midship Fresh Bar and Hard Bean Cafe. He expects to start opening the stalls in the next few weeks and praised the city government for a smooth permitting process.

Blonder said the Market House lineup will appeal to locals as well as tourists. "I think it's an excellent mix and I think it will be very, very successful," he said.

Annie Waheed, owner of Severna Park's Good Life Market, will operate the Annapolis Organic Market and the Good Life Smoothie Bar in the Market House. She's excited about the vibrancy returning to the Market House.

"People are anxious to see that building open," she said.

Cohen said once all vendors are open, the city will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony and start promoting the Market House. He said that's when he'll fulfill his promise to walk a plank into the water at City Dock — a pledge he made when the city blew a self-imposed deadline to reopen the Market House in fall 2012.

"For me, the real issue here is not getting the Market House open tomorrow or getting the vendors open all at once. The issue is getting it open and having it be successful, not only this summer, but for the long term," Cohen said.

In recent years, the city has fixed problems that plagued the Market House in the past.

A year ago, the city spent nearly $700,000 to install geothermal wells and a new air conditioning system, according to David Jarrell, the city's director of public works.

Recent improvements included reconfiguring the building, expanding the bathrooms and adding a 24-seat window counter to take advantage of views of City Dock, at a cost of $300,000. Previously, vendor stalls blocked the view.

Sean O'Neill, president of the Annapolis Business Association, said he's glad the Market House is close to reopening, but he cautioned that vendors may not have an easy time.

He said downtown restaurants and food shops face challenges because state workers have only a half-hour break for lunch and thousands of sandwich-seeking workers and visitors were lost when Anne Arundel Medical Center left the city for a new campus in Parole more than a decade ago.

"It's always good to see something open that's been closed," O'Neill said. "Hopefully, the new vendors will at least get some people coming downtown that haven't been down in awhile. Unfortunately, the Market House will never be what it used to be."

Vendors will pay for the expenses of running and maintaining the Market House, including trash, utilities and marketing. When each tenant's gross sales tops a portion of $1.5 million assigned to the group, they'll pay 9 percent of sales to the city. All vendors' leases expire at the end of 2017.

There's been a Market House in downtown Annapolis since 1788, according to the city. The current building was built in 1858.

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