Cross Street Market vendors scared to close their doors amid renovation

Vendors hold rally to get help with moving expense
Posted at 12:54 PM, Feb 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-02 17:51:38-05

There's more than 100 years of history at Cross Street Market in South Baltimore.

Established in 1846, the market has seen a lot of change, including the building that went up to house the current market since 1952.

The small town family feel is evident when you walk through the doors. Vendors and employees greet their regular customers by name, and already know what they're going to order.

"I was babysat in this market," Anna Epsilantis, third generation owner of Jim's Deli said.

"Well he was an immigrant, come from the old country and this little spot was open and he took a shot at it," John Steve Nichols said he inherited his father's business, Steve's Lunch, after he graduated college.

They moved when he was 12-years-old from Greece.

Now these vendors will be out of the historic building in need of repair in May. That's when demolition starts, according to developer Caves Valley Partners website.

Epsilantis said this is news to them. She said they found out in December that the original agreement had changed.

"[The original agreement] states that the manager is given permission to close portions of the building during the renovations, which is what we were led to believe all along," Epsilantis said.
Now the plan is to shut down the market for 10 months, to complete more extensive renovations CVP didn't originally anticipate.
Additional study of comparable successful markets throughout North America by CVP, as well as a more detailed assessment of the deteriorating condition of the Market building, led to the conclusion that the Market needed to be reimagined and largely rebuilt, even if many merchants remained. A great deal of thought was given to keeping a limited number of merchants open during construction, and the inescapable conclusion was that doing so would be a disservice to both those merchants and the project. Conducting a food-based business in a small space within a construction site would be nearly impossible and even if merchants were open, they would likely not be viable. 
Epsilantis says this shut down will be fatal for some businesses, and a loss for the community. "Not only are our businesses being stolen from us but I think a part of Baltimore's history is going to disappear as well," she said.
CVP said on their website that they are helping tenants relocate. 

The offer to assist in finding temporary or permanent space in the blocks surrounding the Market: This scenario would help existing property owners around the Market fill vacant spaces and allow merchants to operate continually, if they felt a shutdown would not be practical for them. Relocation and buildout expenses in this scenario would be paid for by the new landlords. This would be a typical process for tenants leaving a building at the end of a lease and moving to another. In essence, the relocation and buildout expenses would be incurred by a new landlord to entice a given tenant to move to the landlord’s property.

The offer of temporary or permanent relocation to Lexington or Hollins Markets: Certain merchants could realistically succeed in either of the other public markets in closest proximity to Cross Street. Others likely could not, for a variety of reasons. For those interested in remaining in a pure public market, this option could have resulted in payment of relocation and buildout expenses by BPMC, as the landlord for the new spaces, similar to the scenario presented immediately above.

CVP offered to finance the shutdown time for returning merchants. CVP provided the example of its agreement with BPMC, in which CVP is paying rent throughout the duration of construction, to maintain BPMC’s required cash flow. That structure, while unusual (typically rent would not be paid while the Market was “dark”), was fashioned in such a way as to create an economically-feasible circumstance for both parties. The situation is directly analogous with that of the merchants.

In addition to the above assistance options, CVP and its leasing team promised to provide Letters of Intent for nearly all existing merchants to return to the redeveloped Cross Street Market. Two merchants were not expected to return under any circumstances; the cell phone vendor and the lottery ticket vendor. Added to that list is Nick’s Seafood. The first two of these tenants do not fit the vision of a food-based market moving forward. Nick’s Seafood is discussed in the section titled, “Why was Nick’s Inner Harbor Seafood’s lease terminated?” All other vendors would be given the opportunity to either return with their current concepts or to reimagine their concepts to fit within the fresh, freshly prepared, healthy, or locally sourced food focus. CVP’s leasing consultant from Cana approached tenants on January 9, 2017, as promised, to discuss the Market leasing plan, rent ranges, potentially good location fits, and what concepts each tenant would want to pursue. He was advised that the tenants would like us to send proposals to counsel. We are in the process of preparing proposals under this more formal, and less interactive, process. This process is ongoing and will hopefully lead to multiple tenants returning to the Market once it reopens.

To supplement efforts on the parts of CVP and BPMC, members of the Cross Street Market Advisory Committee have commenced efforts to help current merchants in a variety of ways, including crowdfunding, a relocation assistance fund, and additional assistance for merchants and current property owners in the neighborhood to identify temporary or permanent spaces for the merchants’ businesses. CVP and its team will offer the group assistance in their efforts and the hope is to take the passion of the surrounding communities for the current merchants and channel it to achieve positive outcomes for all concerned.


Customers are also concerned about where they'll go during the shut down, "I was coming around ever since 1960 eat breakfast in the morning, lunch and stuff, meet my friends and all the senior citizens they come and they talk-- now we ain't going to have no place to go if they close the market up you know?" said Willie "Bubba" Cain, a daily customer of Steve's Lunch.
Patrons are also concerned about the cost of the items in the market after they reopen.
"The prices going to be so high you know so you come to eat in the market and you won't be able to afford it you know? that's the trouble about it," Cain said.
Vendors say the price of rent will skyrocket, "Everyone's has more than doubled so yeah that's a concern," Epsilantis said.
She said the vendors wrote a letter to Mayor Catherine Pugh asking for help and have a petition with more than 2,000 signatures.
Thursday night vendors are holding a rally to get help from the city or the developer with moving expenses. The rally will start at 6 p.m. at the Cross Street Market on Charles Street.