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MARKET DAZE

12.9.2002
The Baltimore Sun

Patrick Turner sure is full of unusual ideas. Not so long ago, he wanted to open a cafe whose theme was to be an airplane crash. When that didn't fly, so to speak, he came up with a plan to somehow add a second floor for a gourmet grocery store in Federal Hill's Cross Street Market.
This concept, too, may be short-lived. Most existing merchants at Cross Street Market oppose it, seeing a grocery as a threatening rival. But by creating controversy, Mr. Turner is performing a public service: The future of Cross Street Market and four other municipal markets should be scrutinized. None of them today is living up to its full potential.
The newest, the 6-year-old Avenue Market on Pennsylvania Avenue, is in the saddest shape. Roughly one-third of its stalls are vacant. Hollins Market, too, is showing weakness.
Of the five, the largest, Northeast Market, is the busiest. The surrounding neighborhood clearly depends on it for staples. At lunchtime, the market also benefits from its proximity to the Johns Hopkins medical campus.
And Broadway Market in Fells Point? Small and too much devoted to lunch counters. It lacks variety.
This leaves Cross Street Market. It tries to cater to two totally different market segments - old South Baltimoreans of modest means, who do not have transportation or other shopping choices, and the increasingly well-off and demanding residents of Federal Hill. However, it is having trouble capturing the yuppie segment. Moreover, merchants complain that the addition last year of a 254-space garage has not improved things markedly.
When the municipal markets were privatized seven years ago, a quasi-governmental nonprofit operating company was told to make them self-sufficient. Indeed, the annual city subsidy has decreased from $800,000 to $200,000.
Having achieved this stability, the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. should now aggressively work on increasing the markets' customer base where it is possible.
Cross Street Market is a good starting point. Perhaps building a second story would cause too much disruption, but there are other ways to strengthen its pull - a more imaginative product mix, for example, offering more prepared foods.

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