The Amish Market was about running into your aunt and uncle who live in the District and they were more surprised to see you there because, your aunt says, "We come here every week." It was about trying really hard not to stare at the teenage girl at the fried chicken counter, because even if she wore a long dress and bonnet she was whispering to her shorts-and-T-shirt-clad coworkers about getting "blasted on Peppermint Schnapps" the night before. Those who ran the market served up healthy portions of American tradition, but it did not ask to be treated like a historical artifact. It was alive.
I think of the Amish Market and "the Turf" in Downtown Silver Spring as the two extremes of East County: one is a reminder of our agricultural past, the other speaks to a future where even the grass is man-made. But they both relate to each other as urban and rural experiences, whether in the Amish Market's maze of aisles, thick with the clamor of raised voices and machinery, or the green carpet of "the Turf," unassuming, simple, and a makeshift solution to the problem of a lot left fallow. They both came into being through the collective efforts of a few people that allowed thousands to come together.
And it was because of its significance to this community and my own life here that I chose to follow the saga of the Amish Market, which was forced to move from its twenty-year home in the Burtonsville Shopping Center at Route 29 and Route 198 when BMC Property Group announced plans to redevelop the strip mall. Despite multiple attempts by County officials - including the late Councilmember Marilyn Praisner - to keep them in Montgomery County, the market opened a second location in Upper Marlboro and signed a lease to move their main operations to Laurel in March 2008.
Since then, they've been waiting for developer Chris Jones to obtain building permits for the new shopping center, which began construction this January. The Market will reopen in "last August or early September" at their new location near the intersection of Route 198 and Route 197, east of Old Town Laurel. I doubt that it will be the same experience. They'll have a nicer building, maybe with wider, less claustrophobic aisles. The vendors will be the same, but the patrons may not. Some of us will find it too inconvenient to drive over to Laurel for a spontaneous trip. Then again, some people in Laurel will suddenly have a new place to go, to shop, and to visit one another.
You might say that we could have a community event at the rec center, or the high school, or some public facility built for the purpose of meeting. But ever since the Greek agora, humans have met and communed in the halls of commerce, because that's where we ran our errands. Places like the Amish Market are no different.