On a sunny autumn morning, coffee drinkers found a cozy niche outside the Whitehall Market, a year-old venture that has been quietly establishing itself alongside the Jones Falls stream in an obscure corner of Hampden. Skeptics would say it was an audacious idea to place a food hall for artisanal Garrett County cheeses and farm-raised oysters in such a restful and secluded spot.
“We hope it won’t be obscure for long, and more people are discovering us each weekend,” said David Tufaro, the market’s owner.
Finding the market, housed on the ground floor of a venerable brick-and-stone mill, is not easy. Its address is 3300 Clipper Mill Road, which once was easily accessed from Falls Road until this ancient Baltimore thoroughfare was partially closed for major underground utility work.
The current story of the Whitehall Mill, which houses the Market, goes back nearly five years. It was redeveloped by Tufaro and his Terra Nova Ventures. Its conversion into 28 apartments and offices was accomplished without incident.
“We always had a dream of opening a market on the ground floor. It seemed like a natural,” said Tufaro, who lives in Roland Park. “The building had the configuration of a market with a long central corridor and stalls on either sides.”
His Whitehall Mill is a sprawling and lengthy complex alongside the falls. That stream can get angry and flood; no apartments were permitted at the lowest part of the property, which was OK. That allowed room for parking — and maybe an interior market or food hall.
Tufaro found it was easier to get apartments installed than it was to lease and outfit a first-class restaurant, even a restaurant whose terrace would overlook a gorgeous steam and tree canopy, with parking, adjacent to some of Baltimore’s more prosperous neighborhoods. Faidley’s, the Maryland seafood business in the Lexington Market, thought of establishing a second location here, but chose a Catonsville spot instead.
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That began the effort to put in a complementary market area, similar to the food halls at the Mount Vernon Marketplace and R. House in Remington. These places offer spaces for small entrepreneurs and pop-up vendors who want to sell their specialized products, foods that don’t often make it into traditional chain grocery stores.
“The virus is making people cautious about going out, and we’ve tried to make this an attractive open space, inside and out,” Tufaro said.
There is room for more vendors, and a whole chunk of the old mill now known as the Penguin Room is destined to be an events space. It was named for Penguin Books, the British-based paperback firm that used the Whitehall Mill as a warehouse 50 years ago, long after cotton milling ceased. (Other uses included Purity Paper Vessels, a takeout container operation; Sekine combs and brushes; and, lastly, a warehouse for pornographic publications and related merchandise.)
“We tailor each space to the specific needs of our tenants,” Tufaro said. “These are young startups, and for some of them, it’s their first business. It’s in our mutual interest to make it all work. This is not a cookie-cutter operation. ... We are not a strip mall.”