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Catonsville gourmet grocer’s opening ‘a little shining star' amid pandemic, residents say

Customers braved the cold early Monday morning, lining up on Frederick Road before 6 a.m. to be the first shoppers in the doors for the grand opening of the 818 Market, Catonsville’s new gourmet grocer.

Some came with lists, while others, such as Char Brooks, were delighted to find unexpected delicacies and sundries, like the crisp Swedish bread she’s long favored and gloves made from natural rubber.

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Brooks, a longtime Catonsville resident, said the southwestern Baltimore County community has lacked a local grocer since the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., or A&P, grocery store vacated its post on Frederick Road and the Heidelbach family’s grocery store in the old Plymouth Wallpaper building closed in the 1960s.

She used to travel to Clarksville in Howard County to buy organic and natural foods, she said.

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Having the market opening now, amid a worsening public health crisis and after the project’s setbacks, “is a little shining star in the middle of all of this,” she said.

Opening 818 Market has been “a labor of love” for the last few years, co-owner Patrick Baldwin said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the establishment Monday.

Baldwin and Dan Zakai, a veterinarian who owns the Frederick Road Veterinary Hospital next door to 818 Market, bought the property in 2017 for $1 million with plans to repurpose the 83-year-old building before its first floor was flooded during a catastrophic flood in 2018. Opening dates had been previously floated last year.

Amid Baltimore County’s 6.9% unemployment rate, the 818 Market’s opening creates more than 80 new positions. And it has made a world of difference for employees like Rebecca Doane of Paradise, who found herself out of work in April when a local thrift shop for which she had just started working closed one of its locations and cut her hours at another.

“I like working for small businesses,” she said in between checking customers' temperatures at the door, a practice the business will continue during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is something Catonsville has needed for a while,” she added.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. lauded the 818 Market’s completion during the ribbon cutting. The county applied for a $1.7 million Neighborhood BusinessWorks loan from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development for the project, which cost around $9 million.

“Despite the setbacks, you have taken this building and turned it into something special,” Olszewski said.

Former County Executive Don Mohler, who lives in Catonsville, said the establishment was an important addition to the suburban “community of families.”

Inside the store, that sense of community, and of lightened spirits, was unmistakable.

Shoppers walked the perimeter of the grocery store, taking cellphone videos of the butcher counter, the floral shop and even the ceiling, trying to capture the ambience of the two-story building. While the original structure was demolished, details like the market’s stair runners, tables, display boxes and other features were salvaged.

Parents paused to appreciate the towering Christmas tree with their young children. Pete Fitzpatrick, a Catonsville resident who arrived at 5:45 a.m. for the store’s opening, ran into his brother as he shopped.

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Jennifer Lynch, principal of Hillcrest Elementary School, laughed with Del. Terri Hill as she paid for her gluten-free chocolate mousse and apple crumble pies.

Magnolia Henderson-Lide, 10, was there with her brother and parents to document the market’s opening for a school assignment on newspaper reporting.

Her mother, Jessyca Henderson-Lyde, said she was “a little hesitant” to go to the market as COVID-19 cases spike across the country, but her mind was eased by the “good deal of space” inside the 16,000-square-foot store, which features a butcher counter, a wine and cheese shop, grab-and-go food, fresh seafood, a deli, an in-house restaurant and bar (where customers can order drinks to sip as they shop), catering services and coffee.

For those who aren’t comfortable shopping, though, the business has carryout options and delivery for residents within a 5-mile radius.

“It’s like a boutique Whole Foods,” said Amanda Hancock, owner of the nearby Ash + Oak Salon and Spa. Boutique grocers can be a little iffy, she said, because they don’t always carry a wide variety of foods.

That’s not the case at 818 Market, she said.

“I just found vegan Alfredo, which I didn’t know existed,” said Maggi Berstein, a stylist at Ash + Oak.

The 818 Market carries both locally-sourced and national food brands. Some may recognize coffee from Baltimore-based, woman-owned Thread Coffee Roasters. Charvon Davis, who lives just outside Catonsville, came to the market’s grand opening to support her friend’s caramel apple business, Apples by Ms. Spicer, available at the cafe counter.

“I couldn’t be any happier than to see a beautiful place like spring up in the middle of a pandemic,” said Joe Poisal, president of the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce.

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