Lexington Market-Baltimore's Gem
Everyone knows about Lexington Market in Baltimore. In fact, there are five other markets in town as well: Broadway Market, Cross Street Market, Hollins Market, Northeast Market, and Avenue Market (Lafayette Market).
Recently I was lucky enough to take a special tour of Lexington Market with extensive history given by Casper Genco, Jr who is the personable and knowledgable Executive Director of Lexington Market.
Goes like this:
Lexington Market opened in 1782 as an open air market.
In 1803 a roof was put on the structure to help moderate the weather.
By 1925 there were 1000 stalls. Currently there are around 140 vendors. From fresh fruits and vegetables, to butchers, to bakers (no candlestick makers), not only can you get yummy food, but Lexington Market is a destination in itself.
1949 brought a huge fire that burned down the market.
Rebuilt, the market now comprises 737,000 square feet, including a parking garage. There have been periodic renovations to the market, like a $12.5 million one in 2002.
The city owned Baltimore Development Corp just issued a RFP to help plan a $20-25 million renovation to transform the market to a regional draw.
The non-profit Baltimore Public Market Corp. manages all of the cities markets, and the land is leased from the City of Baltimore. There are two separate Board of Directors, one for Lexington Market, and one for the five other markets in town, even though the same eleven members serve on both boards.
Since the customer base drives the vendor mix, and cost drives prices, the Board is very in tune with the communities needs. You could say the area was in the middle of a “food desert”. Located on the western side of Baltimore City, Lexington Market helps small businesses for many blocks around survive.
How does the board manage this? By keeping rents as low as possible. They will help set up new vendors, whether in physically setting up their booths, or financing to get them started. Luckily there is a parking garage attached to Lexington Market which generates $1.4 million per year. That helps tremendously with giving Lexington Market an advantage the other markets don't have. (It's always about the real estate, isn't it?)
Typically the small business owners work 12-14 hour days 6 days a week. The official hours are Monday thru Saturday from 8:30 am until 6 pm, but any one familiar with running a small business, especially one that prepares food, knows the owners start much earlier in the day, and stay late to clean up. Sunday Lexington Market is closed. The owners need R&R time, and many are religious and wouldn't think of giving up church.
2.5-3 million people visit Lexington Market each year. Though not in close proximity to other visitor attractions, like the Inner Harbor, somehow people seem to find Lexington Market just the same! With super popular fried chicken, seafood such as crabcakes and oysters, to a small grocery store, Lexington Market is a experience not to be missed.