West Baltimore’s Avenue Market was closed down Tuesday in the wake of the E. coli discovery at three nearby locations, further limiting food sources for residents in an area already underserved by restaurants and grocery stores.
“This is a bad place to get something to eat,” said Robert Leray, who was sitting across the street from the market and lives nearby, referring to the surrounding neighborhood.
“A lot of people do rely on The Avenue for food,” said Edward Everett, who had been hoping to grab a late lunch at The Avenue Market after being let off early from his construction job.
Over the holiday weekend, officials placed a substantial swath of the city and part of Baltimore County under a boil water advisory, meaning that residents should boil water before using it to drink, cook or brush teeth.
Baltimore’s public works department first noted E. coli and coliform through routine testing on Friday at the Fire Department’s Engine Company 8 station in West Baltimore, according to an incident report. Another round of tests conducted on Saturday confirmed the original results. The boil advisory came Labor Day.
The Avenue Market, located on the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in Upton, fell under the affected area, as did an estimated 1,500 homes and businesses.
Paul Ruppert, president and CEO of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp., which operates the city-owned market, wrote in a text message that it’s “almost impossible to run a food business in a Boil Water Advisory.”
Baltimore’s other public markets, including Hollins Market, are outside of the advisory area and remain open, Ruppert said, although Lexington Market shut down Saturday ahead of the launch of the new building this fall.
Like Lexington Market, The Avenue is slated to undergo a renovation, with a completion set for 2024. The project received $2 million in federal investment this spring, according to a release from Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
Founded in the late 1800s, The Avenue is in an area where the median income of nearby residents is 58% lower than that for the rest of the city. Residents are less likely to have a car and have fewer options for grocery shopping.
A few Baltimore residents near the market said Tuesday that they didn’t realize the market was closed because of the E. coli finding; there were no signs on the doors explaining the closure.
Several people interviewed by The Banner were also unaware that E. coli had been detected nearby. “This is the first I’m hearing about it,” Everett said. But Everett said he had already become accustomed to drinking bottled water, since realizing the water from his tap was cloudy around 10 years ago.
Others said they had learned about the contamination and boil advisory through friends or from the news or social media, not from government channels. “A lot of people don’t know” about the advisory, said Barbara Newton, 72.
Newton said she was confused by the boil water advisory map provided by the Baltimore City Office of Emergency Management, which showed a boot-shaped zone stretching into Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. “The map doesn’t really tell you a whole lot,” she said. She was unclear whether her home fell under the advisory.
West Baltimore resident Evonne Hooper lives in the Harvey Johnson Towers on Mosher Street, just a block north of the firehouse where the contamination was first detected. She said she typically drinks bottled water but uses the tap to make tea, and was concerned she might have been exposed to the bacteria. Another resident of the building, she said, had complained of stomach cramps.
Still, Hooper was grateful for the fast thinking of the building’s manager, who arranged for the city to deliver cases of bottled water to each resident. Neighbors gathered to bring the bottles to elderly people who couldn’t come down to pick up the water. “We come together when stuff like this happens,” Hooper said.