Northeast Market in East Baltimore is hard to miss. You can smell the canola oil frying and hear the gulls squawking from two blocks away. Inside, fried chicken, fried lake trout, and sub joints reign over the four red-tiled aisles, and the meat selection ranges from chicken breast to pig ears. But only two or three stands with fresh produce.
Northeast Market was built in 1885, and is one of Baltimore’s five brick-and-mortar markets still in existence. It’s centered in the Middle East neighborhood, which is 40 percent abandoned and the median household income is a whopping $15,000. Despite bummer statistics, the market is still a place where people gather, for good or bad.
I don’t know what it looked like in 1885, but the mural rising above that seagull-infested parking lot imagines a time when the markets were still central to the city. Now Northeast seems like one of the few lively places left in the area, and I’m constantly amazed to realize that most of the clientele know each other. It might not be pretty, but it kind of seems like a place that is home.
The reason I’m at Northeast Market at all is because my office building, part of Johns Hopkins University, is across the street. Hopkins is known for buying up tracts of abandoned houses, old buildings, and seen-better-days neighborhoods to revitalize, or just to tear down and use for Hopkins building space. Starting this year, Northeast Market is on the list. Proposed plans supposedly include new murals, healthier food options, and stalls for local farmers.
My only hope is that this makeover turns out to be more of an exercise-and-veggies change than a complete replacement of the soul of the hall, and an ejection of the people who actually live, not just work, nearby.
And that I get brave enough to eat a hogmaw.