Vendors and Community Voice Concerns On Eastern Market Legislation

ANC6B and EMCAC Members Hear From Community On Eastern Market. From Top: Commissioners Jared Critchfield, Dave Garrison, Carol Green, Brian Flahaven, Ivan Frishberg, Brian Pate, EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder, and Commissioner Kirsten Oldenburg

Community Turns Out On Eastern Market. At Right: EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder

Vendors and Community Voice Concerns On Eastern Market Legislation

by Larry Janezich

ANC6B and Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) held a joint listening session Thursday night to receive commentary from community members and stakeholders on pending legislation to create a new governing authority for Eastern Market.  According to EMCAC and Councilmember Wells, the city wishes to get out of the business of managing the market.  Without a new governing structure, the finding of a new manager will default  to the previously unsatisfactory practice of bidding out the job.  Eighty-five stakeholders, vendors, merchants, farmers, and community members turned out for the meeting. 

Linda O’Brian, from Councilmember Wells’ staff, was present to give an overview of the legislation and detail where it stands in the legislative process.  The bill, introduced by Wells, is in the City Council’s Committee of the Whole, which will hold an as-yet-unscheduled public hearing.  After being passed out of the Committee on the Whole, the bill will go to the City Council for two votes, the second of which will constitute final passage.  O’Brian took questions from ANC Commissioners and EMCAC members and noted that the legislation was on the Councilmember’s website and encouraged comments.  (See below)

ANC Commissioner Brian Pate chaired the meeting, in his role of ANC6B representative to EMCAC.  Pate and fellow Commissioner Ivan Frishberg – in whose Single Member District Eastern Market lies – did most of the questioning of those vendors and members of the community who chose to make statements about their concerns. 

As merchants, farmers, vendors, and community member rose to speak, it became apparent what a tangled web of overlapping and conflicting interests the ANC, EMCAC, and the legislation will have to resolve. 

One of the overriding concerns in which one would expect the neighbors to be interested had to be voiced by the Market’s fresh food vendors.  This concern is about the direction the Market itself is moving.  Several the food merchants take issue with this direction noting that the Market has become a tourist destination attracting large crowds who buy few food items.  On the other hand, the flea market and craft vendors benefit hugely from tourists attracted to the location.  A coalition of merchants in the area informally known as the “Sign Tigers” and lead by Chuck Burger who is not only a key player in the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce (CHAMPS), but also serves on EMCAC, has been instrumental in winning approval for city funding of an information kiosk at Eastern Market Metro Plaza, to promote the Market as a tourist destination for the benefit of the restaurants and shops in the immediate area. 

Some community members believe the way to guarantee the future as a food market is to offer a better quality locally grown product and to offer it during the week on the farmer’s line.  Others point out that a consumer friendly approach could be furthered by clearly pricing the products offered.  Many merchants, inside and out, expect customers to ask the price of an item.  A new governing structure with special expertise in food, arts, business and finance, historic preservation, legal, merchandising or marketing issues – as required by the bill – could nudge the Market in this direction. 

The merchants and vendors of the market were heavily represented at the meeting.  According to long time Market fish vendor Charles Glasgow, the vendors are fearful about their future at the market since the new legislation does not offer the protections including right of first refusal, long term leases, and rent controlled by the Consumer Price Index which was granted them in the 1997 legislation currently governing the Market.  Merchants, farmers and vendors are pressing to increase their representation on the new governing board by decreasing its size from 11 to 9 members.  The legislation guarantees three elected representatives of merchants, farmers, and vendors will have voting membership on the new board. 

The two managers of the weekend flea markets, Carol Wright on Saturday, and Michael Berman on Sunday, spoke of their fear losing control of their respective venues, since the legislation specifies no management role for them after the Hine lot is closed for construction.  In addition, since the proposed space available for the weekend markets under the Hine plan is half of what is currently available, they fear that half their vendors will have to be dropped or that they will have to seek space elsewhere in the city for their operations. 

Questions regarding how the flea markets will be dealt with depend in large part on Stanton/Eastbanc Development which is proposing closing 7th Street between C and Pennsylvania on Sunday to accommodate the market.  Closing streets, however, has raised the hackles of some in the community who point out that the current weekend closing of 7th Street between Independence and North Carolina was accomplished by mayoral fiat, without community input.  Parking is also a contention.  Stanton Eastbanc (for cost reasons) and some nearby neighbors (who fear losing street parking if more vehicles are attracted to the area) want to minimize parking in the Hine Development.  Merchants (who want parking for customers), and vendors (who will park vehicles in the development on weekends) want as many spaces as possible. 

Many in attendance, both vendors and members of the community, had concerns about the self-perpetuating character of the new board after the initial appointments by city officials, and lack of oversight or responsibility to the community once the board is in place.  

A signification and specific concern regarding the legislation was raised by EMCAC member Monte Edwards, who – speaking only for himself – pointed out that the legislation terminates the city’s responsibility for maintenance and covering capital costs ten years after enactment.  With respect to the latter, the legislation provides that the City will fund any major repairs, alterations, construction or improvements to the Market only for the next ten years.  Edwards agreed that the responsibility for maintenance should be terminated after ten years, but told the ANC and EMCAC, “I suggest that the expiration of the City’s responsibility for capital improvements should not automatically expire after ten years, but should be subject to review after 10 years.”

To comment on the legislation, go to this site:  http://www.tommywells.org  Scroll down to the October 4, entry at bottom of the page and follow the links to review Wells’ statement and the current and proposed legislation for governing the Market.  To leave a comment, click on the first link regarding Wells’ introduction of the bill.

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2 responses to “Vendors and Community Voice Concerns On Eastern Market Legislation

  1. For clarification, I think it was Bill Glasgow of Union Meat who stated that the only market stakeholders who benefit from tourist trade are the vendors of prepared foods, referring to operations presently located on the natatorium plaza, not the arts/crafts market. As someone present at the Market all day every weekend, there is no reason to think that weekend market is swarmed with tourists, or that such a swarm would benefit the arts/crafts vendors. Tourist simply carry away very little.

    There is however a decades old phenomena of residents of both Capitol Hill and a wide variety of other District neighborhoods bringing out-of-town relatives and friends to the Market on weekends. Often those kind of family visits include special meals, and a fairly sophisticated shopping, which in no way resembles the tourist kiosks on the Mall. Most of those sort of guests are very familiar with Market, visiting a few times each year and tend to go straight to whatever products needed, just like residents.

    It is a wild exaggeration to suggest that Eastern Market has become a tourist destination. And an even wilder exaggeration to suggest that out-of-towners are somehow a threat to the food market. But for decades we have heard so many express contrived threats to the purity of the food market that I am starting to associate them with those who imagine threats to the purity of our bodily fluids.

    Joe Snyder, Tenth Street SE, Eastern Market Artist

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