Pretty much every person who visits Savannah or lives here strolls Forsyth Park. We can probably assume that the majority, en route to rentals or The Vault or Foxy Loxy, have made it two blocks south of the park past the old Sears building and have said, “Huh, I wonder what that’s going to be.”
Six years ago, when my wife and I were scouting Savannah as a place to call home, we walked those sidewalks and drove those streets for the first time, venturing southward after lazy mornings at The Bean or a schmancy dinner at Local 11Ten. Like most, I was straight away fascinated by the OSB, dormant and immense and strategically located, and envisioned it as a functional space.
In our four years as Savannahians, my recurring postulate is that life would be complete if Trader Joe’s came to town, and I can think of no better location than the OSB at 2 East Henry, situated at the city’s downtown nexus of tourists and residents with nearly an acre of existing parking lot.
Sigh. I have simple dreams - and most of them are about food.
Because we live only a few blocks from the Starland District, 2400 Bull Street (a.k.a. the old Sav-A-Lot space née David’s Supermarket) has recently piqued my interest as an eater, as did Katie Nussbaum’s superb SMN article about the location that ran in late February, in which Beth Vantosh (Vantosh Realty) references Atlanta’s Krog Street Market.
Now we’re talking. Let’s all dare to dream together, but first, a little history...
Just as we were unpacking our boxes and moving into our little Baltimore City bungalow in June of 1995, Belvedere Square Market was on its last breaths. A five-minute walk from our house, Belvedere was, for a decade, a true market, a neighborhood ‘grocery store’ in a quaint urban setting comprising individual vendors’ stalls. Colleagues and new friends told us that they would stop on the way home from work two or three times a week to pick up everything they needed to make dinner that night, from a butchered steak to a few ears of corn to a freshly baked loaf of bread and all sorts in between.
As far back as 1751, public markets were part of Baltimore’s consumer culture with more than a dozen giant ‘halls’ scattered throughout the city and filled with purveyors of, literally, soup to nuts. No one would be surprised that the advent of supermarkets conspired with white flight to see more than half of these public city markets shuttered and fall into decay in the 60s and 70s, though Lexington Market, Cross Street Market, Hollins, and a couple others either endured or were resurrected.
Unfortunately for us and our humble neighborhood, before we had slept a night in our house, Belvedere Square’s relatively young market had been reduced to a bagel shop, a Mediterranean pizza joint, a women’s fitness studio, and a moribund Chili’s, facetious thanks to a delusional and chiseling landlord.
For the sake of time and print-page space, I will dissolve to the happy ending. Go to Belvedere Square’s homepage. See what civic attention, engagement, ingenuity, and determination can do. In 2001, the City of Baltimore made that myopic landlord an offer he could not refuse, and two years later, Belvedere Square reopened and has been a vital neighborhood destination ever since. Though the original design of a yesteryear urban marketplace morphed into a unique and snazzy food court over the next few years, the primary original buyers-in remain, including soup-and-sandwich counter Atwater’s, which has evolved into a five-location empire - all from that first bowl of chicken noodle.
Today, Belvedere Square Market is akin to Krog City Market and houses an Italian deli, a wine bar, a pizza place, an ice cream counter, and much more. And the venerable Greg’s Bagels that stuck it out through the lean years.
In 2004, Summer Sounds at the Square started. At that first plein air concert, Aileen and I were two of a dozen locals who showed. By the end of that first summer, Belvedere became home to the biggest, tastiest, kid-friendliest weekly block party in any city in America. Over the next decade and to this day, on a Friday night, folks would drive into our modest enclave, park, and unpack their camp chairs before strolling down to Belvedere to spend four hours or more eating and drinking and listening and dancing.
Last week, my wife and I were up in Atlanta to see Tokyo Police Club play at The Earl in EAV, and we enjoyed a couple days of exploring the city’s walkable, eatable neighborhoods. Our stop at Krog City Market rekindled my yearning to see Savannah realize something similar, sooner than later.
We all love to see brick-and-iron warehouses of old given new life and special purpose. Half of the charm of a place like Krog is the exposed I-beams that are thoughtfully and creatively kept and incorporated into modern renos. Add reclaimed lumber walls and foodie stalls and you have an architectural objet d’art where folks can enjoy a proper corned beef sandwich or some fried chicken finished off with a scoop of coffee chip.
According to Katie Chancy of DAI, the plans for 2400 Bull Street are still “up in the air” with “nothing confirmed,” but she says that they would love to pursue a market concept for the space.
Whatever may come, I hope that I am not alone in contending that these two intriguing properties on Bull deserve appropriate and local-focused future existences, though that sinking feeling in my gut every time I pass by the OSB tells me that the incorporeal ‘Old Sears Building LLC’ is going to let the real estate remain fallow until a ‘boutique’ hotel syndicate hands over a blank check.
Here’s hoping Our Fair City does what it can not only to protect the historic integrity of the OSB and 2400 Bull but also to ensure that the redevelopment of both properties enhance the food culture of both neighborhoods.
And if food markets like Krog or Belvedere are at all in the offing: if you build it, we will eat.
Someday, Neil and his wife will be living in a tiny town in the south of France, eating, doing crosswords, and playing Scrabble. For now, when he is not grading papers, baking bread, or watching EPL soccer, he builds furniture and writes.