City considers new way of running Market House

April 03, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

The 126-year-old Market House by Annapolis' City Dock is one of the few places in town where residents, office workers, midshipmen and tourists come together. On a pleasant day, they crowd into the wood frame building to buy lunches to eat by the water.

Now, city officials say they want to take a look at whether the fare being offered fits the customers' appetites.

With the leases of the nine Market House tenants up for renewal in December, the city plans to hold a public hearing to gather input on which businesses should be in the city-owned building.

"I want to see the Market House oriented to people living throughout the city," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, the Ward 5 Democrat who heads the City Council's Economic Matters Committee.

The possibility that the Market House will change makes some tenants nervous.

"These are all mom and pop operations," said Ray Machoian, owner of the locally famous Machoian Chicken shop, which specializes in fried chicken and oversized french fries. "No one is getting rich here."

The Market House has changed little since it was restored and reopened in 1972. Although only two of the original tenants remain, new tenants operate virtually the same kinds of businesses as their predecessors.

The market's wares range from fried chicken to frozen yogurt, raw oysters to pizza, cupcakes to polish sausages.

Altogether, the Market House tenants pay the city about $110,000 a year in rent, a figure Mr. Snowden calls "a drop in the bucket" compared with what the city could receive if it charged ** market rates for the property.

The Economic Matters Committee will hold the public hearing June 23 to solicit ideas for the building. Those options will be presented to the City Council, which has the final decision.

"It's not automatically assured that what exists will continue," Mr. Snowden said.

Legal obligations dating back more than 200 years limit the possibilities. When merchants and planters deeded the land to the city in 1784, they stipulated that the property had to be used as a market or returned to the original owners or their descendants.

Historic preservationists used that clause to save the building in the 1960s when the city intended to sell it. The preservationists scoured the country and found descendants of the original landowners so they could invoke the deed and stop the sale.

In addition to the deed restrictions, uses of the building are specified in the city code, which says that the Market House will carry products to serve residents, boaters and tourists.

Mr. Snowden said one suggestion is to place the management of the property in the hands of a private company. The property is managed by the city, but a professional property manager might be able to run the Market House more efficiently, he said.

The alderman also said he would like to see a more diverse group of tenants.

Mr. Machoian, one of the original tenants, said the merchants are doing their best to provide products the public wants, but he said the recession and the shortening by a half hour of state employees' lunch breaks have made it difficult.

Now the merchants are worried that the rents may increase or leases might not be renewed.

"We're all concerned," he said. "I've got 20 years of my life in this."

Mr. Machoian was operating a local bar when a city official approached him in 1972 and asked him if he would be interested in running a fried chicken booth in the Market House.

Seeing an opportunity to run a family business, he agreed. Now, his wife and daughter work there with him. "The mayor then assured me that my grandchildren will work here," he said.

Joe Martin, owner of Mann's Sandwiches and the other original tenant, said the merchants don't know what to expect from the city review. "We're kind of just waiting until June."

Mike Schemmel and Marcia Barnes, two Naval Academy employees enjoying their lunches from the Market House on Friday, said they hoped the city doesn't change it.

B6 "I like it just the way it is," Mr. Schemmel said.

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