An era ends as merchants move out of Market House

At the Annapolis Market House yesterday, the bright sun by City Dock gave little comfort to the last food-stand operators clearing out their wares and stations - smarting at being evicted by City Hall as their leases expired last weekend.

In the desolate shell of the plain waterfront building, even merchants who are moving to desirable sites nearby said things would never be the same when they no longer are under the same roof.


This month, a city contractor will begin overhauling the historic 1858 structure so officials can lease it to Dean & DeLuca, an upscale New York-based gourmet grocery store. The agreement is being finalized.

To Annapolis officials, the project is an opportunity to reinvent a prominent city landmark that has seen better times. The city plans to spend nearly $1 million to add, among other things, a new roof and air-conditioning system.


But to some residents, the displacement of the seven merchants from a lunchtime institution is another example of Annapolis losing its small-town feel.

"This is a mainstay with people who are part of Annapolis," said Bruce Glaeser, a yacht broker.

The humble one-story structure is the third market to stand at the waterfront site, which has been a center of commerce for more than two centuries.

Officials say the upgrade is long overdue, and made all the more urgent by the damage inflicted by Tropical Storm Isabel in the fall of 2003.

Longtime merchants strongly opposed the move to a single leaseholder. But they had little recourse because their leases expired Friday.

"This is like the last curtain call for a Broadway show," Judy Schwartzberg, a proprietor of the family-owned Big Cheese shop, said yesterday.

"This is the cafeteria of Annapolis, where the community comes to chat," she said. "The response has been overwhelming, with people giving us champagne, wine, notes, cards - so it's been an emotional experience."

Schwartzberg said she reassured her regulars that the shop will relocate just a block or so away in March.


But one person who walked by, lawyer Doug Hollmann, told her he was taking the change hard and did not welcome a dash of SoHo sophistication coming to the state capital's Colonial streets. He joked that he felt "almost suicidal."

"The damage isn't to [the shopkeepers], it's to the fabric of the town," Hollmann said. "Would Baltimore close Lexington Market or Cross Street Market?"

A naval officer on a brisk walk, Cmdr. Joel Modisette, glanced in the doors and peered at the concrete interior to see whether he could get one last sandwich. The answer was no.

"New is on the way," Modisette said philosophically. "It was never a place to hunt down."

Jay Lim, the owner of Annapolis Fish Market, seemed especially dejected at closing down the stall he had occupied for 20 years. He said his sushi and oyster business will continue at the nearby Ninja Cafe, an existing business.

But, he added, "The city kicked us out. I paid $40,000 in flood damage for nothing."


Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said yesterday that the city had not concluded negotiations on the deal with Dean & DeLuca to manage the space. The Annapolis city council chose the chain last year over one other bidder.

"They have the copy of the lease," Moyer said. "Now both sides are fine-tuning and word-smithing the agreement."

Moyer and other city officials said they did not see any obstacles to closing the deal. The mayor said she expected to put the Market House management agreement on the city council agenda next month.