It's not Dean & DeLuca, but it could be worse. The hordes of tourists streaming into Annapolis for the boat show this weekend won't find the gourmet grocery in the old Market House, as was once planned, but neither will they find the building empty, as it has been for months now.

The city announced this week that "the prominent vacant shell" at the City Dock will house an information booth, promotional exhibits for the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race and folding chairs for weary visitors.

An empty building in the heart of the historic district was the last thing Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) wanted this weekend. Her administration has absorbed a political body blow because of the failed lease negotiations with Dean & DeLuca, and a symbolic reminder on such a busy weekend would be unwelcome, to say the least.

Greg Stiverson, president of Historic Annapolis Foundation, said he welcomed the plan to open the market, even in a somewhat limited capacity, and he said it could be particularly valuable in the event of rain.

"Annapolitans and visitors to Annapolis have taken shelter in the Market House for the past 220-plus years," he said.

Stiverson was somewhat less rosy about the city's plans to set up portable restroom facilities inside the building, which has been stripped of utilities.

"Eeeew," he said.

The administration says it is certain the building has adequate ventilation to accommodate the commodes.

Holding Down the Stores

You don't, as it turns out, actually need a hard hat to walk down Main Street in Annapolis -- even though the city briefly closed two businesses there because the brick facade they share was found to have separated from its moorings.

Specialty shop Plat du Jour and the mini-mart next door were closed after the problem was discovered last week, only to reopen later with a new facade: scaffolding. The precise cause of the problem is a matter of some debate; foundation settling due to road work done years ago and a renovation that was begun recently appear to be leading theories.

"Whatever it is, it's a huge mess," said Judith Hartman, owner of Plat du Jour, which sells imported European ceramics, linens and other items. "It's like doing business in a cave, which for a gift shop is not a good thing."

Hartman is hoping that a sale, 10 percent off any one item in the store, will draw customers and offset an expected drop in foot traffic.