On Friday, SouthBMore.com spent much of the afternoon at Cross Street Market to get a pulse of the existing merchants after last week’s news that Caves Valley Partners (CVP) pulled out of an agreement to redevelop the 31,800 sq. ft. market. CVP took over the market on January 1st from the Baltimore Public Markets Corporation (BPMC) and was proposing to close the market for 8 to 10 months beginning in May for renovations. BPMC will take over management of the market again on March 1st.
BPMC sent out a request for proposals in January 2015, selected CVP in June 2015, and reached a deal with CVP in November 2016. CVP ended the agreement that was to include a $6.5-million renovation of the market after the Maryland General Assembly District 46 Representatives drafted a bill to charge CVP $50,000 per year for a liquor license if it didn’t obtain and extinguish other liquor licenses in Federal Hill.
Rendering courtesy of Caves Valley Partners and Brown Craig Turner
Cross Street Market has 17 existing tenants, all of which besides Nick’s Inner Harbor Seafood are currently on month-to-month leases. Tenants would have needed to negotiate new leases with CVP’s team. Pretzel Twist was the only tenant that had already signed a new deal to stay at the market. Some tenants were not invited back to the redeveloped market including Wireless One, Inc., which sold cell phone accessories before it recently closed, and Cross 10 Grocery, which focuses on lottery tickets and other groceries.
The market is open from 7am to 7pm on Monday through Saturday. Nick’s is open Sunday through Thursday from 11am to 7pm, Fridays from 11am to 10pm, and Saturdays from 11am to 9pm. The redeveloped market would have included longer hours.
The future was very uncertain for Nick’s Inner Harbor Seafood, which still has six and a half years left on its lease and which owns a seven-day beer/wine license. CVP terminated its lease on January 1st although Nick’s remained opened as the lease was being disputed. Now, it’s back to business as usual for Nick’s and Co-Owner Kwang Lee, who gave SouthBMore.com two thumbs up with a big smile and said he was “very happy.”
Longtime Nick’s Employee Kimberly Travers told SouthBMore.com, “The excitement in Mr. Lee’s voice when he found out was amazing and something I’ll never forget. He prayed every day at church for a miracle and told me he gets to continue his dream job.”
The staff at Nick’s enjoyed a $300 bottle of champagne after hearing the news. They were cheering, clapping, and crying according to Travers. She said the three to four months of stress are behind them and that atmosphere in the market is much more relaxed now. Travers said everyone who has come by has congratulated them, something SouthBMore.com witnessed several times during its visit.
As for the future of the market, Travers and the Nick’s team hopes Baltimore City commits to the $2 million it was putting into the CVP redevelopment proposal. “I hope the City puts money into the market without changing it too much and taking everything away from everyone who’s already here.” She also noted the current hours work for Nick’s.
Big Jim’s Deli also has a seven-day beer/wine license, though it is not able to open on Sundays, and owner Anna Epsilantis wasn’t sure what was next for her business which has been in her family for 52 years. She told SouthBMore.com a lease offer was two and a half times what she is currently paying in rent and included 6% annual increases. She said the cost of closing her business for a year, doing a new build-out, and returning with a security deposit and first month’s rent would have been too costly.
Epsilantis looked into relocating her business into a storefront in Federal Hill, but always wanted to stay. “My family has been here for three generations and I grew up in this market.”
Epsilantis said she is happy, but is now focused on the future. “We have a clean slate and we need to bring everyone together and come up with ideas. We can make the market better and we can pay more than we are paying now, but it doesn’t need to be over the top. The proposal was beautiful, but it would have taken everything from us (the merchants).”
Epsilantis said she would like to see the Cross Street Market phase-in longer hours and Sunday hours. She noted that all the merchants held a meeting on Thursday night to discuss the future.
She hopes the City keeps its $2-million commitment to improvements. “The City is responsible for the condition the market is in. They have done nothing for the last 25 years.”
Young Kwon from Kwon’s Produce told SouthBMore.com, “I am very excited, but need to know what’s next. The market still needs renovations. I want to see this become the best market in Baltimore again.”
Kwon said he is open to longer hours if that’s what the community wants. Kwon has been at the market for 18 years.
Sharon Johnson of Cheese Galore & More told SouthBMore.com, “I wouldn’t have been able to afford to come back and wouldn’t have been able to keep selling Zeke’s Coffee.”
She said Zeke’s is about 25% of her sales and would have created a leasing conflict with a new market coffee shop. She said she looked into relocating but cited the amount of time, money, work, and permits a relocation would have taken. “There are no turn-key places out there.”
Cheese Galore & More has been open at Cross Street Market for five and a half years.
“Everyone thought we (the current merchants) wanted the same at the market, we didn’t. Hopefully we can get with the City and get the $2 million for repairs. We still have work to do,” said Johnson.
Joo Kim of Mondawmin Fried Chicken told SouthBMore.com that he’s happy and plans on staying. He had not negotiated a new lease with CVP.
Steve’s Lunch owner John Nichols said, “This is great news for us.” He told SouthBMore.com he wasn’t planning on staying in the redeveloped market. “We need improvements, but it needs to be affordable for us to stay.” He said he has many elderly customers who appreciate his affordable prices. He hopes the City commits to the improvements and wants to sign a longer lease. He told SouthBMore.com he would also like to be open on Sundays.
Steve’s Lunch has been at the Cross Street Market for 52 years.
Woung Chong of Cross 10 Grocery, which was not invited back to the redeveloped market, told SouthBMore.com he is very happy and he is staying.
Fenwick Meats owner Henry Reisinger was frustrated. “Now I’m dealing with the same girlfriend as two years ago, the City,” he said. “Show me Plan B, there is none. We weren’t at the table from the beginning.”
Reisinger said he was still deciding if he wanted to be a part of the new market. “If it was going to be a grand slam, I wanted to be a part of it.”
“Everyone knows the market needs something. What is the city going to do with the $2 million?” he continued.
Reisigner told SouthBMore.com he hopes to get a two-year lease and retire. He has worked at the Cross Street Market for 45 years and has owned his business for 30 years.
CVP’s redevelopment plan had many supporters in the neighborhood, but many residents also rallied behind the existing tenants, including Nick’s which received a great deal of community support during its legal matter with CVP. In a statement last week, Councilman Eric Costello voiced his disappointment that the redevelopment deal fell through.