About 50 Annapolis merchants and residents said last night that they do not want significant changes at Market House, the historic food court near City Dock that is scheduled for renovation this year.
They made their comments at a meeting of a task force set up by the mayor to study Market House and make recommendations on its future.
The city-owned building at the foot of Main Street is scheduled for extensive renovations beginning in December, when the leases of its current tenants expire.
The work is expected to last at least six months, and no business will be allowed to operate in the building during the project.
City officials have not ruled out leasing to current tenants after the work is complete, but they have met with representatives from Dean & DeLuca, an upscale grocery store based in New York City, about occupying the 150-year-old building.
Almost all of last night's speakers said Market House, which has nine stalls, reflects Annapolis' small-town feel and should remain unchanged.
"The individual vendors have been true to the city," said Teresa Hansen. "It is important to keep the market in the form it is now arranged."
Market House is in poor condition, merchants and city leaders agree. Paint is fading, the electrical system is antiquated and the building was closed for nearly a month after it was flooded by nearly 4 feet of water during Tropical Storm Isabel last fall.
Current tenants serve sandwiches and other inexpensive lunch options. Some residents have long asked for an upscale grocery store where they could shop for groceries and gourmet items.
Seventy-five percent of the 130 residents taking part in a poll by the city last fall said they weren't satisfied with the selection of products at Market House.
Annapolis officials say current tenants will not have to move out of downtown Annapolis if Dean & DeLuca moves into Market House. Two local businessmen have offered to lease space to the current Market House merchants.
Merchants said yesterday they do not want to leave; several have collected almost 8,000 signatures on a petition asking that they be allowed to stay at Market House.
"We do serve the city of Annapolis," said Bob Schwartzberg, co-owner of the Big Cheese, who noted that many of the tenants have been there for nearly 30 years. "These businesses must be doing something right."
Others said it would be cruel of the city to displace businesses. "It's very difficult for me to think about the hardship these people will endure," said Sveinn Storm, owner of Storm Bros. Ice Cream Factory on Dock Street.
The task force will make its recommendations to the council next month.