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Cross Street Market Customers Keep Workers Happy

A group of workers have found happiness on the job, right in the middle of the frustrations we normally associate with city life.

Located between Light and Charles Streets in Federal Hill, the Cross Street Market attracts all kinds of people: young and old, rich and poor, black and white, plain and simple. The market's workers are from all walks of life as well. Some have long family histories extending back over a century. Others are friends of the families. Regardless of where they come from though, most of them can agree that the thing that keeps them going in the market is the people--employees and customers both.

Though the market has been around since 1845, the present structure was built in 1952 following a destructive 12 alarm fire. Today, the market is still a vital part of the Federal Hill neighborhood, sitting between its busiest streets.

The far end of the Light Street side is home to Steve's Lunch, which provides all that great greasy grilled grub we've come to love in this country--burgers, hotdogs, fish fillets, and the ever popular Philly-style cheese steak.

Gail Schroyer has been an employee of Steve's Lunch since her high school days in the city in the early seventies.

"I'm going to finish it out. I've got another ten years left in me," Schroyer said with a smile.

What is it that keeps her at the market?

"People," Schroyer said. "I love the customers. I'm a people person."

Schroyer feels she shares this notion with Steve's Lunch owner, John Nichols.

"I have the deepest respect for that man," Schroyer said. "He's good to everyone, and he takes care of people when they don't have something to eat."

John Nichols and his family have been in the business for quite some time. In fact, Anna Epsilantis of Jim's Deli can tell you the whole story.

"My grandfather used to be in the business," Epsilantis said. "Steve's Lunch used to be "Nick's Lunch. When [my grandfather] died, the stall was sold to 'Nick' and his son, John Nichols."

"My father opened this one on his own," she said while vigorously scrubbing down a meat cutter.

"When I was in school, I worked with my father on and off," Epsilantis said. I got out of high school and worked for the Baltimore Bureau of Purchases, but that wasn't my thing. Then one day my father said, 'since you're looking for a job and I need help, why don't you just come work for me?' So I'm in between jobs."

The connection between Steve's Lunch and the former Nick's Lunch is not uncommon for the Cross Street Market. These sort of connections date back to the early days of the market, when it was still an outdoor site.

"It's like an old-fashioned market where everyone knows each other--kind of like " Cheers ," Epsilantis said. "When you go to a grocery store, that doesn't happen."

It just so happens that Epsilantis keeps a few old-time articles about the market under the counter, keeping track of some of the history. One such article entitled "The Cross Street Market: It's Families and it's History" took a similar angle as this article. The main difference was that the article was printed in an independent Baltimore newspaper called The Enterprise almost 25 years ago, which further demonstrates the permanence of the market's tradition.

Employees keep working in the market for various reasons, but most can agree that the people help a great deal.

Steve Bongiovani of Bongiovani and Son, Inc. sells produce from a stall toward the center of the market. His father and grandfather both worked at the stall in decades past.

"People come from many areas to buy their produce here," Bongiovani said. "People on welfare come in here and buy their meat and freeze it. Tourists love it."

"The communication with people is good. Every day its something different."

Up until last week, Jerry Calendine worked side by side with Bongiovani at the produce stall. "I've tried other occupations and I always somehow end up back here," Calendine said. "Its like the saying: If you love something and set it free and it comes back, it was meant to be."

Ironically, Calendine has recently left the market to try his hand in a different field. If his words ring true though, he may soon return to the happiness and tradition of the Cross Street Market.

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