A steady pulse of traffic beats past the former home office of the Imperial Life Insurance Co. at the corner of Lexington Avenue and College Street in the center of downtown Asheville. In the perpetual shade of the BB&T building, families and tourists on their spring breaks cruise up and down the sidewalks, sometimes peering curiously in the large front windows of what will soon be the Lexington Corner Market.
Built in 1925 to house row upon row of desks, calculating machines and office workers, the building was designed to reflect the art deco architectural aesthetic of its time with 12-foot ceilings covered in ornate medallions stamped on tin tiles. The insurance company moved out in the 1950s, but the building retains many of the structural details that were once prized ideals of quality. Today, it’s divided up into multiple store fronts and office spaces facing College Street, offering restaurants and bars, a shoe store and a salon and day spa.
As an in-and-out kind of place to grab a fresh sandwich, a jar of Lusty Monk mustard, a to-go pint of ice cream from The Hop or a couple of Buchi kombuchas (sounds like a fun night!), Lexington Corner Market will add a new facet to the mix of merchants along this corridor of downtown.
“This will be a very Asheville kind of store with something for everyone,” says owner Rebecca Hecht, who also owns the Adorn Hair Salon and Day Spa next door. Hecht took over the lease for the property at 58 College St. — the former home of EDGE Furniture Gallery — at the beginning of 2016. Instead of expanding her salon, she decided to diversify and fill a need for both tourists and locals who live and work downtown.
Since then, she and her team have been hard at work sanding, painting and prepping, and with permits now in hand, the next few weeks will be dedicated to refining menu items, filling baskets and shelves and training staff. With the decor, Hecht has embraced the antique-meets-new look, knowing that visitors to Asheville appreciate the historic connections that downtown offers.
Stepping across the quarter-inch steel mosaic of mountains at the threshold and into the market, the space is reminiscent of the general stores of a different era, except with an electronic charging station gracing the dais in the front window where traditionally one might have found a shoeshine stand. The high ceilings are lit by a spine of pipe lights that lends a vaulted look to the hall. Vintage photos of Asheville — especially of the historic Lexington Avenue Curb Market — will soon be displayed on the walls.
Items ranging from sodas and snacks to cold remedies and mac and cheese line the shelves, and the market will also carry basic produce such as onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, peppers, a selection of fresh fruit and other seasonal specials. Local ground beef, chicken and a small selection of steaks from Hickory Nut Gap Farm as well as cheese and other dairy products will also be available.
Kombucha, beer, sodas and juice fill the coolers and, in the back, a generous professional food preparation area is ready to start cranking out signature grab-and-go sandwiches, soups and salads. Hecht plans to begin with a limited menu. For now, sandwich offerings will be limited to two: an Italian sandwich made with capicola, salami, pepperoni, provolone, Parmesan and pepperocinis with a roasted red pepper and garlic spread; plus the Nicoise, which will have tuna dressed in Dijon vinaigrette with hardboiled egg, farm cheese, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives and pickled green beans.
The early menu will also include a beet, goat cheese and walnut salad and a salad of pearl couscous with red and yellow peppers, Kalamata olives and feta cheese. Salads will be served in to-go cups to allow customers to add and mix dressing to taste. Breakfast grab-and-go options will include house-made yogurt and fruit parfaits, pastries from Geraldine’s Bakery and single-serving cereals. On the horizon for when the shop officially opens in May, a selection of house-made soups will be added to the menu as well as a turkey, brie, apple and arugula sandwich with Lusty Monk mustard and a quinoa salad with mozzarella, tomato and green olive.
A soft-opening period began on April 6, and, over the next few weeks, Hecht and her team are quietly opening for customers to see where interests and needs intersect. “We definitely want people to come by, say hi and check us out as we grow our inventory,” says Hecht.
The first of the fresh grab-and-go foods will be available beginning Friday, April 15. General manager Sam Lappin and assistant manager Ronika McClain are working closely with Hecht to provide a combination of local products and name-brand drinks and dry goods that will evolve as demand dictates.
“I used to work across the street and would have loved a place like this,” says Ayana Dusenberry, a local freelance marketing and public relations person who’s been helping Hecht with the set-up and opening. “It will be the perfect stop for local workers who have a short lunch break or for people headed home from a show at the One Stop or a late evening downtown.”
Lexington Corner Market is at 58 College St. Soft opening hours vary. A grand opening is scheduled for the first week of May, after which, regular hours will be 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 7 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. For details, visit lexingtoncornermarket.com or look for Lexington Corner Market on Facebook.