Baltimore Fishbowl | Lexington Market poised to serve as hub of entrepreneurship on West Side - (2024)

Baltimore Fishbowl | Lexington Market poised to serve as hub of entrepreneurship on West Side - (1)

A massive reimagining of Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market remains on track for completion in early 2022, with developers pushing their vision of boosting small business ownership for communities of color.

Tumultuous events of the past 12 months — from the crippling effects of the pandemic to the galvanizing forces of the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter marches — reinforced the need for Lexington Market to serve as economic and civic engine for Baltimore’s Westside, project backers said.

“There was a real heightened awareness of how this could become a business development incubator,” said Mike Evitts, a spokesman for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, which runs Baltimore’s downtown business improvement district. “How could we employ more Baltimoreans and engage more entrepreneurs?”

Home to a continuous public market since the Revolutionary War, Lexington Market has remained operating in its aging home as a modern but smaller replacement food hall rises nearby. Its stalls are still filled with vendors peddling pastries, sausages, smoothies, ethnic food — and some of the most famous crab cakes in Baltimore.

Despite its enduring popularity as a tourist attraction for foodies and out-of-towners, years of disinvestment in neighboring blocks and public reports of infestation have left Lexington Market in rough shape.

Now, the $40 million renovation and reconstruction could turn the market into an anchor of the Westside. Developers hope to create a walkable corridor from Oriole Park at Camden Yards northward that includes thriving theaters, restaurants, and local businesses operating from historic storefronts.

The new food hall is rising in a spot slightly closer to the Hippodrome and the ballpark, and a pedestrian plaza will take the place of older buildings to be razed. Plans are still needed for some of Lexington Market’s buildings that soon will be abandoned.

The developer of the project, Seawall, is the force behind the R. House food hall in Remington and Union Collective near Woodberry. Because of the market’s importance to the city, Seawall and its city partners undertook extensive community engagement, collecting input about what the space should look and feel like.

A guiding principle, said Katie Marshall, a Seawall spokesperson, has been to increase diversity of vendor ownership.

Toward that goal, Seawall and Lexington Market last month announced a new way to give those businesses access to credit: a million-dollar accelerator fund, which includes reduced credit and collateral obligations. The fund will be administered by Baltimore Community Lending. Second-round loan applications will be accepted through March 26.

Another step is choosing vendors to fill the stalls in the new building. For now, citing pending lease agreements, Seawall is mum about which eateries will be returning.

“I can tell you that it will be a good mix of old and new and that we’ve had incredible interest from vendors looking to join the market,” Marshall said.

Still, on a recent visit to the market, staff inside Faidley’s Seafood confirmed their move to the new building, and in the same prime spot facing out toward Paca Street, where they’ll continue to serve some of the city’s most renowned seafood.

For entrepreneurs and small businesses, the market’s sheer endurance — founded in 1782, with the first building erected in 1803 — means sole proprietors have been able to count on the stability of their livelihood for generations, said Robert Thomas, the market’s executive director.

“Longevity and need have gone hand-in-hand,” he said. “Now, we have the opportunity to evolve the market model to serve more communities in more diverse ways; some ways prompted by COVID, and other ways facilitated by technology. That’s our stewardship responsibility going forward.”

Supporters also hope that Lexington Market, one of six public markets owned and operated by the Baltimore Public Markets Corp., can help execute a vision in a part of the city long slated for rebirth.

City leaders for years have tried to steer investment to the Westside, with a renovated Hippodrome Theater, and the preservation of storefronts that were once part of a thriving Black business district. With the Westside’s redevelopment, said Evitts, the opportunity to improve Lexington Market as a community resource was in reach.

Today, the Everyman Theater has moved in. Restaurants operate from façades of imposing 19th-century bank buildings. The University of Maryland graduate campus and medical complex continues to grow.

While they once served local neighborhoods with daily wares like vegetables and fresh meats, the most successful public markets in Baltimore and elsewhere now seem to attract Sunday brunchers, lunchtime crowds, and an affluent young client base. Think Broadway and Cross Street markets in Baltimore or Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market.

So how to keep the vibe and the ethos of Lexington Market without risking sanitization or gentrification? Marshall said planning for the building was the easy part. Keeping two centuries of spirit alive was the real goal.

“Lexington Market isn’t a building – the building is important, it holds the vendors — it’s an icon and central gathering place for all of Baltimore City,” she said. “That’s what any version of Lexington Market means to embody. It’s Baltimore’s original hub for small businesses.”


Baltimore Fishbowl | Lexington Market poised to serve as hub of entrepreneurship on West Side - (2024)
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