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 on renovations.
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.
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.
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."