Many regular customers of the Amish vendors at the Joppatowne Flea Market were upset to hear the news Saturday that at least two of those vendors will have to leave, the result of a legal battle between the flea market's neighbor in the Joppatowne Plaza Shopping Center, the Redner's supermarket, and the owner of the shopping center, the Cordish Cos. of Baltimore.
"I buy all my meat and my bacon, ground beef and everything here, " Jason Farrell, of Edgewood, said. He shops with the vendors of the Amish Farmer's Market every weekend, he said while at the flea market Saturday. "I'm really disappointed they're going to leave."
U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett upheld, in a decision released earlier this month, a "restrictive covenant" that was part of a 20-year lease agreement between Redner's Markets Inc., the Pennsylvania-based company that owns the supermarket, and the Joppatowne G.P. Limited Partnership, a division of Cordish and the landlord of the shopping center.
The agreement was signed in 2005, and Redner's has been an anchor tenant since.
The covenant prevented the Joppatowne Limited Partnership from leasing any property within a five-mile radius of the center for a "food supermarket, butcher shop, seafood shop, or grocery store," according to court records.
Two of the eight vendors, who lease space in the flea market - Lapp's Fresh Meats and All Fresh Quality Seafood & Produce - were found by the judge to be violating the restrictive covenant and ordered to leave within 10 days. The flea market is run out of a building that was once a Super Kmart.
"In this case, the equities favor Redner's," Bennett wrote. "Maryland law strongly favors upholding the intent of contracting parties through enforcement of contractual terms."
The All Fresh vendors had left the market before Bennett's decision was issued June 13, but Lapp's remained, and had to be out Sunday before midnight.
Attorneys for the Joppatowne Limited Partnership, Charles M. Kerr and Kathleen M. McDonald, of Baltimore, filed an appeal to Bennett's rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals June 14.
"I just want us all to get along because there's plenty of room for everyone to do business, and do it well," Marci Nacke, office administrator for the Flea Market, said.
A small group of the Amish vendors, who travel from Pennsylvania to Harford County to operate their stalls Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and their local community supporters, could be seen standing along Joppa Farm Road on the edge of the shopping center parking lot Saturday afternoon, holding picket signs.
The vendors sell meats, baked goods, furniture, barbecue and more. Nacke noted the Amish spend about $4,000 each week in gas and groceries at Redner's.
"We're community people," Menno Beiler, operator of the Beiler's BBQ stall, said later while in the market.
He was concerned for the future of the remaining vendors in Joppatowne.
"If one goes, we're just probably all going to go because it makes the load that much heavier for everyone else," he said.
Flea Market shoppers could also stop by a table at the market entrance and sign a petition to support the Amish vendors.
Farrell's 12-year-old son, Eric, put his name on the petition.
"I like the bacon that they sell," he said. "It's delicious."
The vendors of the Amish Farmer's Market have leased space in the Flea Market since 2010. Redner's sued the Joppatowne Limited Partnership in 2011, claiming the stalls violated the restrictive covenant.
Some of the people who signed the petition said they would not shop at Redner's, which has been an anchor tenant of the shopping center since 2005.
The Amish market draws people from around Central Maryland, such as Melanie Elgin, of Arbutus, in Baltimore County.
Elgin is a regular shopper at flea markets with Amish goods around the state.
"We hit them all every weekend," she said.
Local resident Terry Koppenhaver ran a table covered with signed petition sheets and had signs urging support of the Amish vendors taped to the edges.
"I'm just a customer, a concerned consumer," she said.
A regular shopper at the Amish market stalls, she said she wanted to stand up for the vendors.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to keep them here," she told shoppers who signed the petition Saturday.
Koppenhaver said supporters are working to get 10,000 signatures. Nacke said more than 6,000 had been obtained since the petition drive began last week.
Shevin Peavy, of Edgewood, signed the petition and also called his mother, who agreed to pledge her support.
"It's definitely a nice place to go, and it's close to home," he said.
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Redner's, headquartered in Reading, Pa., operates 42 "warehouse markets" in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, including locations in Joppatowne and Bel Air North, plus 16 "quick shoppes" in the region, according to the company website.
Corporate officials released a detailed page-and-a-half statement explaining their position to the community.
"Please know that Redner's has not taken, and absolutely will not take, any action against any vendors within The Joppatowne Flea Market," officials stated. "We have filed a lawsuit against our landlord, Joppatowne G.P. Limited Partnership ("the landlord"), for breaching the lease agreement that we signed with it."
Redner's spokesman Eric White wrote in an e-mail Monday that a restrictive covenant "is standard in all of our lease agreements."
Redner's officials stated those provisions "are almost always included in shopping center leases because grocery stores like ours cannot survive without them. We would not have picked this location without this protection in our lease, and we expect that no comparable grocery store chain would have either."
"We hope that the landlord does what is right by them," Redner's officials said of the Amish vendors in their statement. "We have told the landlord about available space in the area for these people, and hope that the landlord bears the costs associated with moving them into this cheaper space. We invite the landlord to use some of the many millions that Redner's is paying it for space to ease any burden to the vendors."
Neither the owner of Lapp's Meat's or the Cordish organization could be reached for comment as of late Monday afternoon.