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Hill Mourns Loss of an Eastern Market Fixture

Emily Heil/Roll Call
Tributes to the Eastern Market greengrocer Christopher Calomiris adorned the family’s stand over the weekend.

For a man whose world was the size of a modest living room, Christopher Calomiris lived a big life.

From the produce stall in the center of Eastern Market, Calomiris spent more than 50 years filling thousands of customers' grocery bags with fruits and vegetables, usually throwing in a gratis banana and always, a smile.

He died on Saturday of cancer at the age of 86.

On Sunday, the stall was closed, and a handwritten sign reading "In Loving Memory" was posted above a snapshot of Calomiris. On the empty shelves, customers left notes, flowers, and, in a tribute to Calomiris' signature, a lone banana.

On Tuesday, it was back in business, with Calomiris' sons, Tom and Leon, getting hugs and condolences from a stream of customers.

"Pop wouldn't have liked that," Tom says with a slight smile, of the family's decision to close up shop for a day. "I could almost see him frowning at us. But we needed some time."

Chris Calomiris and his wife, Maria, were the most recognizable fixtures of the market. Maria is known simply as "Mama" to many of the other vendors and generations of customers. Calomiris, though the quieter of the two, was as much a part of the market as its soaring windows and familiar hum of voices.

His sons, vendors and customers describe Calomiris as a kind, gentle man who relished hard work and the people who came with it.

Chris retired several years ago, but he couldn't resist coming back to check up on the business. He worked most weekends, tallying bills by hand on customers' paper bags and doling out bananas to children. "He wanted to make sure we were getting the best quality, still treating people nice," Tom says. "All his life, he never took vacations, he just worked for us, for the family."

Many customers knew of his bout with gastric cancer five years ago, but his death came as a surprise to most, who seemed to expect to see him as they had most weekends perched behind the counter, wearing an apron.

"Eastern Market is the heart of Capitol Hill, and the Calomiris family is the heart of Eastern Market," said Judi Seiden, a real estate agent and Hill resident who stopped by the stall on Sunday to leave a condolence note. "What a terrible loss."

Another mourner was John Hall, who has lived on Capitol Hill for 26 years and has been buying produce from the Calomiris family for most of that time. He says customers have watched the Calomiris children grow up. "He always had a smile and such a gentle demeanor," Hall recalls.

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