Photos and text by Amy Davis
The recently announced plan to build a new home for Lexington Market on the parking lot adjacent to the current building spurred me to pay a visit to this Baltimore institution. America’s oldest public market, which began in 1782, is beset by the same challenges that face the surrounding downtown district. The bustling atmosphere of the open-air stalls was lost when the wooden sheds were destroyed in a 1949 fire. Vendors were relocated to the current utilitarian brick building, erected in 1952.
Inside, it is obvious why Lexington Markets, Inc., the non-profit that runs the market for the city, determined that a new structure was the best solution for renewal. Even its loyal supporters recognize that the cavernous building is dingy, outmoded and expensive to maintain. It will take $40 million, mostly from private sources, to construct the proposed multistory glass building. During construction, the current building will remain open.
The second challenge, beyond the cost, is how to make Lexington Market a destination that will attract new customers without abandoning the faithful clientele who depend on its affordability. Robert Thomas, the executive director of Lexington Markets, is committed to providing offerings at a range of prices. Thomas added, “We want to reassert that it is an environment that welcomes all walks of life.”
Ultimately Lexington Market will continue to be about the people: the customers drawn to the panoply of food choices under one roof, and their relationships with the hard-working vendors who serve them. Faidley’s Seafood, Konstant’s and Mary Mervis, the stalwarts who have been with the market for more than a century, will carry on their traditions. Visitors eager for a tasty new experience might want to try the market’s newest vendor, Connie’s Chicken & Waffles. Don’t forget the maple syrup.