Chrisikos clan bids a sweet farewell to Cross Street

Jacques Kelly

September 24, 1990|By Jacques Kelly

Alex Chrisikos turned off the overhead paddle fans at his lunch counter at the Cross Street Market for good Saturday afternoon.

For the first time in more than 90 years, no member of his family will be doing business in South Baltimore's thriving market. At 61, Chrisikos, who has been working since he was 6, has called it quits, at least at the market.

"My arms are strong today because I've shaved so many snowballs on this corner," Chrisikos said. The conversation was interrupted by other old-timers at the market who stopped to say farewell.

Chrisikos' stall, featuring a vintage Coca-Cola sign that says "Chrisikos Hot Dogs," had been a fixture at Cross Street Market since the 1890s, when an uncle named Peter, fresh from Greece, opened a candy business at the west end of the market near South Charles Street.

"In the old days, after my father had joined him, he never closed the stall at night until after the last show at Pacy's Garden Theater," Chrisikos said. "After the last movie, people crossed the street for their milk shakes and hot dogs. . . . I started working here as a boy. I sold peanuts and shaved the ice. It's been long, hard work and I wouldn't trade a minute of it for anything else. It's been perfect."

"No matter where we go, everybody knows Alex," said his wife, Yvonne, who worked beside him at the stall.

For generations, the Chrisikos family was revered as the market's great confectioners. Alex, his father, Nick, and mother, Violet, made peanut brittle, taffy, butter creams and chocolate Easter bunnies in the basement of a rowhouse at 37 E. Henrietta St., then sold their sweet wares at the market stall.

"If market work is long and hard, candy-making is even worse," said Chrisikos, who still takes considerable pride in his skill with copper mixing kettles and at the marble candy-making counters.

"We made everything we sold. As a boy, I had the job of bringing the sheets of peanut brittle from the house to the market in an express wagon. We'd best not break those sections of brittle. At the market, though, we smashed it into smaller pieces with this."

He held up a small hatchet that was used by his parents.

One side of the hatchet was used for peanut and coconut brittle; the other for the pulled molasses taffy the family also made and sold. This type of candy -- flavored in chocolate, strawberry, vanilla or molasses -- had to be hand-pulled in the confines of the Henrietta Street basement until it reached the right consistency.

The taffy was a great seller and had the reputation of being able to lift a filling right out of a molar.

Chrisikos recalled other treats that were sold at the stall. "I don't think you can find a milk shake made correctly anywhere today. And forget about a chocolate soda."

Chrisikos' stall had a strategic location at the outside west wall of the market, hard by the Charles Street traffic, the old No. 30 streetcar (today a bus) and what was once Harry Lindeman's drugstore.

It also was in this general spot, in the early morning hours of May 19, 1951, that one of Baltimore's largest fires began. Within an hour, every available piece of firefighting equipment in the city was battling the 12-alarm fire at the Cross Street Market.

"I can't even remember that day I was in such a daze," Chrisikos said. "But my mother -- everybody called her 'Miss Vi' -- rallied. She had us get the overhead electric fan motors out of the wreckage. The wooden paddles were all burned, but she had them fixed and they are still spinning today. Each one of my three children asked me to save one for them."

And it was Miss Vi who had the stall reopened on the street after the fire but before the present brick market structure was rebuilt. "We opened right outside, on Wyler Street [on the market's south side]," Chrisikos said.

There was a time, after World War II, that the former Marine struck out on his own and opened a restaurant in Glen Burnie. His mother ran the stall during this period. Chrisikos eventually returned to the stall, keeping the family tradition alive.

Some years ago, he gave up candy-making when the cost of the ingredients couldn't be recouped from customers' pocketbooks. "It was all pure butter and chocolate. An additive never touched what we made. No wax, no nothing," Chrisikos said. These days, candies are made only for grandchildren.

What about the future? "I want weekends and holidays off," Chrisikos said, recalling years when he didn't take one day off. "Retire completely? No. I've had three or four new job offers."

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