The historic Pennsylvania Avenue Market, a historic community staple in West Baltimore, has a storied history that dates back more than 150 years.
While the establishment is still a well-known landmark commonly frequented by community members, there are numerous vacant booths that show its decline over the course of recent decades. State and local political leaders have teamed up in an effort to restore the Avenue Market back to one of the city’s vibrant attractions.
As part of the fiscal year 2022 omnibus funding legislation enacted in March, Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Kweisi Mfume fought to secure $2 million in direct federal funding to be used specifically for the revitalization of the once-blossoming market.
The two were joined by Senator Ben Cardin, Mayor Brandon Scott, community leaders and a few dozen local residents to highlight and celebrate the investment at a press conference right outside the doors of Avenue Market on April 25.
According to a statement released by Van Hollen’s office, the funds will go directly to renovating Avenue Market and will help provide access to healthy foods for area residents, support local entrepreneurs seeking to grow their businesses, provide more jobs and sustain farms across the metro area.
In the 30-minute press conference, speakers approached the podium and delivered remarks as follows: Van Hollen, Cardin, Mfume, Scott, Baltimore Development Corporation president and CEO Colin Tarbert, No Boundaries Coalition executive director Ashiah Parker and Upton Planning Committee executive director Wanda Best.
Many of West Baltimore’s residents live in food deserts and don’t have access to healthy and fresh produce. This shouldn’t be the case for anyone living in the city, Van Hollen said.
“This is all about building a hub for vital and healthy food, and a hub for the community and greater economic development. That’s what this project is all about,” Van Hollen said, highlighting the more than 20 urban farms and 100 community gardens in Baltimore.
“Baltimore has the longest continuously operating city market system in the country. This one right here – Avenue Market can be traced 150 years back, and now it’s time to breathe new life in Avenue Market and to make sure that this historic place is afforded a brighter future here in West Baltimore.”
Cardin emphasized Baltimore’s rich history of city markets and expressed excitement for the reemergence of Avenue Market as a potential space for entrepreneurship and local sourcing, among others.
“The markets are critically important to our communities. This is healthy food, this is entrepreneurship, this is local sourcing, this is critically important to the survival of neighborhoods which are the strength of Baltimore,” he said, adding that $5 million of the estimated $9.6 million revitalization project costs is coming from the federal government.
“It is our local government, state government and federal government working together in partnership to deliver for the people of Baltimore, and we’re so proud.”
Paul Ruppert, Baltimore Public Markets CEO, will lead the renovation project. He and his colleagues commenced a listening tour in which they met with community organizations for input on what they want to see in the upgraded Avenue Market.
Construction is expected to run from the beginning of 2023 to mid-2024, Ruppert said.
“At the Public Markets, we think it’s most important that we focus on what the neighborhoods around the markets want,” he added. “We really see this as an opportunity to connect with the community and learn from them about what we want to put in here. And it’s really an opportunity for workforce development, healthy food and building up an entrepreneurial base.”
Securing the investment was more than a victory for Mfume; it was personal, he said. The congressman grew up three blocks away from Avenue Market and got his first job there when he was 16, he said.
“We want to turn this back into a first-class market, so that it rivals any other market,” Mfume said. “All the things that were lacking are going to be put back in place.”
Scott acknowledged that the market is in need of a “makeover” for restoration of an economic hub for Black entrepreneurs. Accordingly, Black-owned vendors and pop-ups are encouraged to occupy vacant spaces in the market, which according to Scott, is on its way to becoming a vibrant cornerstone of the Upton community.
The press conference concluded with a $2 million check presentation followed by a brief tour of the market.
Mosiah Fit, founder and owner of Grandma Louise Pies in the Avenue Market, said he recently received an email about the $2 million investment toward the revitalization project. The Black-owned business offers a variety of sweet and savory pies and was the first official pop up under the new partnership.
“I think it’s needed, it’s very necessary because when things get out of date, people don’t like that. People like new stuff,” Fit said of the changes coming to the market.
“It’s going to take a lot more for this community to be lifted up besides just a market, but it’s a good start.”