Flower Mart to blossom at new site


The pursuit of money has trampled tradition in a decision to move Baltimore's annual Flower Mart out of Mount Vernon to War Memorial Plaza next year, according to the Women's Civic League, organizers of the cherished city custom.

Known for geraniums, crab cakes and lemons garnished with peppermint sticks, the spring fund-raiser has not been making enough revenue in recent years, according to the Women's Civic League president. Last year, said Carolyn Simmons, the mart lost $1,000 in a rainout. By contrast, she said, the festival cleared $40,000 in 1988.

The War Memorial Building across from the plaza also will be used next year for some exhibits as well as a backup in case of rain.

On July 8, the league's board voted 27-to-1 to move the Flower Mart from the neighborhood around the Washington Monument where it began; to do away with the mart's horse-drawn carriage parade; and to change the date to the second Wednesday in May from the first.

Next year's Flower Mart, the 79th in a row, will be held May 10.

"We're looking for people and sales," said Ms. Simmons.

"We felt sad because Mount Vernon is the place to be, but it's time for us to concentrate on profit and maybe a different kind of crowd. We haven't had the sales we need for the past five years," she said.

The league uses Flower Mart money to maintain a historic building next to the Shot Tower at 9 N. Front St. The house was once the residence of Baltimore's second mayor, Thorowgood Smith.

Ms. Simmons said the city charged the league $500 for electricity and a fee of about $100 last year. The league purchases its own liability insurance for the day.

War Memorial Plaza, said Ms. Simmons, will attract crowds from all of the downtown office buildings as well as City Hall.

She noted that from 1971 through 1975 the Flower Mart was held at Charles Center and Hopkins Plaza because racial turbulence had marred it in the late 60s.

But by focusing on volume and sales instead of tradition and atmosphere, the Flower Mart may lose its identity as a genteel street festival, may become just another cookie-cutter city festival, said Carol K. Purcell, chairwoman of next year's festival, who opposes the move.

"The monument area is a lovely, graced area of Baltimore that we need to highlight," said Ms. Purcell, who expects to meet with Ms. Simmons Wednesday to determine whether to stay on as 1995 Flower Mart chairwoman.

"I want to find out what the vision is for the Flower Mart, both from the board and from the city. If they're going for more volume, I don't know where they're going to get the harder workers. We have [an older] membership. You can only cut so many lemons in an hour and a half," she said.

Ms. Purcell, who is not a board member, said she feared that the Schmoke administration was trying to "micro-manage" the Flower Mart. She said that at a morning-after meeting with city officials to assess this year's rained-out mart, the city made cost-cutting suggestions that included dropping the parade and moving out of Mount Vernon.

Mari B. Ross, an assistant to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke who sat in on the meeting, said yesterday that the Women's Civic League always had the option to stay in Mount Vernon.

Ms. Simmons agreed, saying "it's our Flower Mart."

War Memorial Plaza was also attractive to organizers because next year is the 50th anniversary of the United States' World War II victory in Europe.

Said Ms. Ross: "The War Memorial was one of the options we presented to them, but we did not mandate this change."

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