Butchers for 117 years Family's Cross Street shop one of city's oldest

Jacques Kelly

September 18, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

When South Baltimoreans want to bring home the bacon, they turn to the butchers who wear the white aprons.

For decades, the Cross Street Market's Nunnally family has been cutting a pork chop to just the right thickness and trimming the fat off a T-bone steak.

"People like the idea of being waited on by the owners," said Mark Nunnally, 38, who has been working here since he was 13. "They like the personal service."

His great-great grandfather started the family business in 1875. For all that time, the family has operated in one location along Cross Street, between Light and South Charles.

No one can mistake the family resemblance among the three men who stand behind the counter. John Edward Nunnally, the patriarch, runs the counter alongside his sons Mark and Brett. The three share ruddy complexions and fair skin.

Theirs is the oldest, continuously operated market stall in the historic city market. The Nunnallys may well be the oldest market merchants in Baltimore.

"If there is one older, I don't know it," said John Edward.

Their ways have not changed much. Meat is still cut to order and wrapped in white butcher's paper. Plenty of sawdust is scattered on the floor behind their counter to help increase foot traction when things get hectic. Often, a dozen or more customers are waiting for a week's worth of steak, pork or chicken.

The father and sons work long hours. On a Saturday morning, they still find a few old customers will want their pound of pork chops cut and trimmed before dawn. Some Nunnally patrons work overnight shifts and do their shopping before going home.

"We are finding the early morning customer isn't as numerous as at one time," said Mark. "Now we have a large mailing list and get people who drive in from as far as West Virginia and Delaware. They might buy a large package and freeze a good part of it."

And while customers line up for hand-cut steaks, bacon and pork chops, some request such neighborhood market specialties as honeycomb tripe, fatback and corned pig tails.

The Nunnallys have seen things change since the days when the old, non-air-conditioned market was only open certain days of the week and refrigeration was scarce.

John Edward recalls the Friday night in May 1951 when the aged market burned, along with his steaks.

"The only Preakness I've ever been to was the one held the day after the market burned," the elder Nunnally recalled of that rare event -- a Saturday off. "I went out to the track to get my mind off my troubles."

At that time, he and his brother Will, now deceased, ran th family stall, which remains marked by a vintage neon-electric sign.

The Nunnallys have a knack for recalling the names of their ol customers, many of whom no longer live in South Baltimore.

"Most people who lived here moved to Anne Arundel County -- Glen Burnie," John Edward said. "But they come back to the market.

"We have third-generation customers. I waited on their grandmothers."

Old city directories disclose that Robert E. Nunnally founded the butchering business in 1875.

He rented Cross Street Market stall No. 1, a position that placed him near the Light Street entrance. The stall has moved to the building's center.

"It's amazing that people will pay more for our country bacon than the pre-packed kind we sell," said Mark. "They want that personal touch."

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