Eastern Market Tries to Reassure Community and Flea Market Vendors on Takeover
A Hint of Change in Character of the Flea Markets
by Larry Janezich
Eastern Market has responded to community and flea market vendor concerns regarding the Department of General Services (DGS) planned takeover of the weekend flea markets with a public relations communications to the community assuring that the flea markets will continue largely unchanged under the new management. On Saturday morning, vendors of the weekend Eastern Market Arts and Crafts (A&C) Market (as distinct from the 7th Street weekend flea markets) received a notice from Barry Margeson, Department of General Services Eastern Market manager. The notice was addressed to the “Eastern Market Community” but apparently delivered only to the A&C vendors.
The notice began with the announcement – which flea market managers Mike Berman and Carol Wright had received last week as reported by CHC – that the flea markets were being taken over by Eastern Market because private use of the street could affect DC’s municipal bond rating.
The letter explains that a portion of the revenues from the takeover will go to upkeep of Eastern Market, and the balance will go to provide more (staff) support for the weekend manager, more security on weekends, “a summer concert series,” “a winter festival,” and a dedicated staff member for the application process.
The letter states that “we will work hard to keep the 300 block as it is” and assures flea market vendors they will be grandfathered in as far as the tougher product quality standards which must be met by the Arts and Crafts Market vendors who are currently managed by Eastern Market. The language leaves open the likelihood that the tougher standards will be applied to any new flea market vendors.
The flea market managers Mike Berman and Carol Wright vowed to fight the takeover attempt. Sunday flea market manager Mike Berman launched his own public relations “Save the Market Again” campaign, announcing a letter writing campaign to public officials and a petition to oppose the takeover. He also said he was pursuing legal options and investigating the claim that the move was based on the city’s Chief Financial Officer’s claim regarding the municipal bond issue. Berman says he has yet to see the CFO’s opinion in writing.
The two flea market managers each pay the city $2000 a month under terms of their licenses to use the street – which is some one-third of the space they had on the Hine site, for which they also each paid $2000 a month. The move to 7th Street has already reduced the number of vendors to about half of those who had spaces on the Hine site at maximum occupancy. Whether the move has been good for the vendors depends on who you talk to – some vendors with need for a larger spaces say the move has hurt their business while most says it is about the same.
Flea market vendors pay the flea market managers more for space than Arts and Craft vendors pay Eastern Market for roughly equivalent space, in part because the A&C vendors are managed by city employees. How the move by the city will affect the pricing of the spaces in both areas is uncertain.
DC regulations say that Eastern Market must be self-sustaining and the market is hungry for additional sources of revenue. In September of 2012, Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) Chair Donna Scheeder wrote to Deputy Mayor Hoskin’s office, asserting EMCAC control over vending on the 300 block of 7th Street, saying the law makes clear that retailing on any public space associated with Eastern Market – including 7th Street – “should not be permitted without written consent of the Department of General Services (DGS) and the review of EMCAC.” And, “As you may be aware, EMCAC supports vending on this block of 7th street on the condition that it be under the jurisdiction of DGS management and the Eastern Market manager. We do not approve of allowing 2 private management companies to control the space, especially during the construction on the Hine site.” See here: http://bit.ly/1JbOw3S
Despite EMCAC opposition, and after protracted negotiations, the two flea market vendors signed a two year contract with DGS in April of 2013 for continued use of the Hine site and then for use of 7th Street during the construction phase of the Hine project. Scheeder grudgingly admitted relief that a licensing agreement had been worked out for flea market vendors to use 7th Street. See here: http://bit.ly/1gNVrVU
In meetings held by Councilmember Tommy Wells in 2010 to solicit community input for development of the Hine site, preservation of the weekend flea markets was the community’s top priority.