Want to Be an Eastern Market Vendor? It’s Not Easy
by Larry Janezich
Capitol Hill Corner took a look at the application process for acceptance into the family of vendors at Eastern Market, a group distinct from the two flea markets that operate on the Hine playground/parking lot on Saturday and Sunday. The process is a rigorous one aimed at maintaining high quality and diversity of products.
Potential vendors, falling into one of five categories (Arts and Crafts, Antiques & Collectibles, Ethno Specific, Farmers, and Prepared Foods) fill out applications which were created in 2009 by merchants, vendors and the Market Manager. The applications establish the criteria upon which each applicant is judged in order to qualify for joining a pool from which vendors are selected by Market Manager Barry Margeson, based upon the needs of the Market.
The largest group of vendors is the artists and crafters – individuals who personally make their own art or crafts and sell in person. The applicant is required to demonstrate that the product is handmade. The goal is to find products that are unique. Applications are not accepted from product lines already well represented such as jewelry, graphic t-shirts, photography, soaps, candles, or lotions. The applicant is required to submit a list of specific types of products, a biography or artist’s statement, a description of the product, a list of elements of the product the applicant does not make, names of two different suppliers of the applicant’s raw materials – with copies of receipts, a description of the process used to create the product, an explanation of the product’s uniqueness, pictures of each product, a picture of the applicant vending elsewhere or a schematic of the applicant’s booth, and a copy of the applicant’s DC Sales and Use Tax Certificate.
Similarly detailed applications cover the other four fields of vending. Each one emphasizes the importance of the relationship between the vendor and the Eastern Market customer.
Once Market Manager Margeson receives an application, he turns it over for evaluation to the Application Advisory Review Committee, headed by Chairperson and vendor Anita Jefferson. The Advisory Committee is comprised of all vendors with a permit to operate at Eastern Market.
Applications are usually reviewed by some 5 to 7 vendors in the particular category under which the applicant falls, with the occasional participation of “outliers” – vendors with an interest in the process whose products are not necessarily related to the product of the applicant. Committee members review the applications, apply a specific set of criteria to the information submitted by the applicant, and award points according to how well the applicant meets the criteria. The process is necessarily somewhat subjective, and market manager Margeson has the final say.
According to Jefferson, “We do not get to say who comes or doesn’t come in. We give Barry Margeson a pool of people he can select from to meet the market’s needs.” Margeson says he can accommodate a maximum number of 125 vendors, with about 115 in operation on a typical fall Saturday and Sunday.
The other categories of vendors must meet equally rigorous criteria. The Antique and Collectables includes sellers of antique, vintage and/or collectible items. Vendors must provide proof of purchase and legitimacy of product – an authenticity certificate. Examples of antique products include furniture, tin boxes, cameras, postcards, and bottles.
Ethno-specific means sellers of imported handcrafted goods indigenous to a certain country – designed in, produced in, and representative of the country of origin. Authentication is required. Only products that are unique to the market and not already represented are accepted. Some of the criteria looked for include a vendor’s connection to the country of origin and whether money from product goes to help the producers remain in the community.
Farmers include individuals who personally farm, grow, or produce their products and sell in person. Products must be intended for consumption off premises. Applicants must have – where applicable – a food service facility license for state where the applicant has a production facility, a license of USDA certified processing facility for livestock, a DC Food Handler’s license, third party certification for designation of sustainably grown, organic, naturally grown, and/or humane products – and a map of, deed for, and directions to the farm.
Prepared Foods is for the vendors who sell products that customers can consume on premises as they are shopping. Ideally, a portion of the production process takes place on site. Only products that are unique to the market and not already represented are accepted. Applicants must show a food service facility license from the state where the product is produced as well as a Food Handler’s license.
New applications are solicited every three months. During the Application Advisory Committee meeting in October, the Committee discussed opening up a new application period and noted that there is currently no vegan food or candy in the prepared food categories. The group recommended that the call for new applicants should target product types that are under-represented at the Market.
Capitol Hill Corner will report on the weekend flea markets which set up weekends on the Hine site in the near future.