Whither Eastern Market? – City Funds 5 Year Plan and Management Assessment

A look at the rise of the Hine development from Eastern Market Manager's Office

A look at the rise of the Hine development from Eastern Market Manager’s Office

Whither Eastern Market?  – City Funds 5 Year Plan and Management Assessment

Move Prompted by Increased Competition

By Larry Janezich

Eastern Market is about to get a lot more competition.  In late 2017, Trader Joe’s – with customer parking – will open up in the Hine project.  This in addition to a new Whole Foods at 600 H Street, NE, opening in late 2016 and another Whole Foods at 800 New Jersey Avenue, SE, opening in 2017 – both with parking.  In addition, the Stanton Eastbanc merchandising and leasing strategy for the Hine project envisions “specialty culinary food purveyors such as a wine and cheese shop, spice shops, chocolates, specialty teas and coffees, and New York deli type retailers.…”  Union Market, with its plentiful parking, numerous specialty food shops and cafes already attracts Capitol Hill customers.

For months, the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) has been trying to figure out how to expand the Eastern Market brand to benefit not only the market but also the broader immediate commercial community.  The plan has been pushed by Chuck Burger, on behalf of the brick and mortar retailers on 7th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Barracks Row.  Burger sits on EMCAC as a representative of CHAMPS – the Capitol Hill version of the Chamber of Commerce.

About a year ago, EMCAC Chair Donna Sheeder went to Eastern Market’s owner – the DC Department of General Services (DGS) – to seek the city’s assistance.   She found a champion in Forest Hayes, the associate director of DGS who offered to provide funds for a study by an outside contractor that would include:

  1. A comprehensive building assessment to determine what capital improvements are necessary;
  2. Ideas on how to better market the North Hall;
  3. Ways to improve the weekday and weekend outdoor Farmers Markets;
  4. An examination of the Eastern Market Management structure;
  5. Consideration of legislation to allow funds received from market operation to accumulate for the benefit of the Market, rather than being captured by the city and used for other purposes.

Hayes’ proposal for moving the process forward has been controversial.  DGS has unilaterally designated five key stakeholders (DGS, EMCAC, the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development (DMPED), Council Member Charles Allen’s office, and the Brick and Mortar merchants on the 200 and 300 blocks of 7th Street, SE.  Hayes’ idea is to have a representative from each of these five entities meet to lay out the scope of work for the Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit potential contractors to do the study.  Once a contractor is selected, he or she would be encouraged to cast a wide net to engage with a much broader stakeholder constituency.  (It is noteworthy that Stanton Development is the largest property owner among the brick and mortar merchants on 7th Street, as well as a minority partner in the Hine development.  It seems a safe bet that Stanton will be represented in any meeting setting the scope of work.)

Hayes’ proposal for moving forward fell short of the expectations of what many on the EMCAC thought was needed.  In a May 26 meeting of EMCAC’s Market Operations Committee called to consider Hayes’ proposal, there was a clear consensus that the stakeholders’ group developing the Scope of Work for the external contractor should be expanded.  Possible additional members suggested include the Chair of EMCAC, representatives from the Farmers Line, Indoor and Outdoor Merchants, and ANC6B.  At its May meeting the Board of Directors of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society agreed that they should be numbered among the stakeholders participating in the initial meeting as well.

Finding consensus on moving the market forward will be difficult, given that the goals of some of the stakeholders are at odds with others.

For example, the inside food merchants and those on the Farmers Line feel that EMCAC and DSG have made Eastern Market a tourist destination, and in the words of Bill Glasgow of Union Meats, “they take up space and don’t buy very much”.  These traditional market merchants feel threatened by the fact they have been operating within the market without leases for some 20 years – for reasons that are unclear.  They are unhappy with the weekend closure of 7th Street and the subsequent loss of parking, which they say inconveniences their customers and discourages weekend food shopping by those who drive to the market.  These stakeholders feel it will be difficult to design a collaborative sales approach without knowing first what other food retailers end up leasing space in the Hine project.

On the other hand, the outside arts and crafts merchants are happy with making Eastern Market a destination, as is Chuck Burger, who sees a tourist destination as benefiting the brick and mortar shops and restaurants on 7th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Barracks Row.  Any attempt to reopen 7th Street to traffic on weekends would work to their disadvantage.

Also, any study of the management of the market will likely revive a plan for a new management structure for Eastern Market.  Former CM Wells introduced legislation for a new market governing structure in 2011, but it died after it ran into opposition from the Mayor’s office.  See here:  http://bit.ly/1U2Lnrh

EMCAC’s Market Operations is preparing a response and recommendations regarding Hayes’ proposal, and EMCAC will consider the report of the Committee at its June 29th meeting.  Rather than provide a forum for a preliminary public discussion of Hayes’ proposal, EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder cancelled the May 25 EMCAC meeting to give the Market Operations Committee the first crack at hearing from the broader stakeholder community in a smaller venue.

Update:  Burger tells CHC that EMCAC – after hearing rumors of an imminent meeting – wrote Hayes to say ample time is needed for the process to unfold, and that Hayes Hayes concurred.  Sources tell CHC that Hayes is not waiting to hear EMCAC’s response to his proposal and has scheduled a meeting on Thursday, June 9, of the five original stakeholders Hayes called upon to decide the Scope of Work for the RFP soliciting proposals for the Eastern Market study.


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16 responses to “Whither Eastern Market? – City Funds 5 Year Plan and Management Assessment

  1. Andrea Rosen

    The District government always chooses the ersatz over the authentic and in so doing, drains the lifeblood from the city. Instead of downtowns, we’ll be left with Town Centres, with the same predictable array of Trader Joe’s, Lou Lou’s, CB2s, etc. Increasingly fewer reasons to live in the District.

    • Ken

      If you want boutique style shopping look to 13th street NW. The city worked with developers to create a balanced approach to density, restaurant and retail space. Clearly retail is thriving on 13th St.

      I believe the added density that will come with the new Safeway project and Hines school redevelopment will lead to better retail options on Capitol Hill.

    • Streeter

      “Increasingly fewer reasons to live in the District”? Makes one wonder just what is a reason you live in the District. Sounds like a silly, pretentious position, kinda like those that consistently complain about the architecture but have no clear or viable thoughts or ideas otherwise.

      • Ken C

        We can’t blame the city for Eastern Market decline. There are plenty of examples where the city has championed the “authentic” option.

        The Barkett lost its edge because the EMCAC and eastern market vendor’s failed to keep up with the times. The Market in it’s current form is simply not competitive. Trader Joe’s and whole foods provide better quality goods, at better prices.

        If the EMCAC and vendors want Eastern Market to survive they need to consider transitioning to a business model similar to Union market, Union kitchen, or Lab 1270.

        Bottom line: The Market needs To captures the interest of the larger D.C. community and tourist.

  2. unclear on the “funds” part. Has money actually been appropriated for this? To what amount? otherwise, good report on the shape of the situation. not said in any discussion thus far, but clearly an issue, is whether DGS extends or steals the flea market operations on 7th street next year. We have no voice, no representative constituent to be involved, despite our obviously being as much of a stakeholder as anyone else listed. _____

    • A reformed, high functioning EMCAC would include all relevant parties, and dump Stanton Park Neighborhood Association and the Eastern Market Preservation and Development Corporation which simply do not exist anymore, but still seat voting representatives on EMCAC. Reform is provided for in the existing law, 37-111 (E). And as surely as their term limits were repealed they could be reinstated.

      As to the UPDATE above, we may never know whether the June 9th meeting, which was known to the other parties, but unknown to EMCAC???, would the meeting have gone ahead without any representative of the Market at the study of the market — or would the Executive Committee managed to have sent a single person, in spite of their commitment to greater representation?

      Cancelling the last month’s meeting and referring this issue to committee, I assumed was justified by the imminent meeting with Hayes. Haze is another word for the process.

  3. Ellen

    I can see why the permanent merchants feel threatened by what is to come but since I am not a cook so I am not a big customer. I will say that I am not sure how much real competition most of that actually is based on what is currently at EM and what is and is possibly coming. I am however, tired of them complaining about closing of the street to vehicular traffic on Saturday and Sunday. It is not like anyone but the vendors were really able to part on the street those days and those that drove to the market usually ended up parking a few blocks away anyway. They make it sound like tons of people drove the EM and needed to (and did) on 7th.

    I have to say the Saturday/Sunday activities ave changed over the 10+ years I have been there and for the most part not for the better – at least for me. I have no idea why and it likely several different reasons but I don’t have reason to go down much for the last 3 or so years because why bother? It isn’t just that it is the same vendors, it is the same vendors with pretty much the exact same products every weekend, weekend after weekend, year after year. There isn’t anything new for me to look out and turn-over in vendors and what they sell would be something new to see. I have often wondered if that is what is really hurting overall activity on the weekends. Of course that is more about people who live here and may come more frequently and not about the tourists who just come for one day.

    Maybe the strategy for the inside merchants and the weekend outside vendors are in opposition. The inside merchants need the locals to shop there and the outside weekend merchants are OK with those but really may rely more on the one-offs and tourists. I don’t think that both can’t be addressed but I am not sure both will get much with a one size fits all approach.

    • Ken

      Absolutely agree. On all points. Same venders selling the same old stuff every week. I believe weekend market/customers would be better served if management varied the venders from week to week. One possible idea would be to turn the market into a inubater for artist and entrepreneurs.

  4. Cassie

    Let EM customers park at Hine.

  5. The Department of General Services embarrassed itself about a year ago by seizing management of the independent flea markets operating on the 300 block of 7th Street, then reversed themselves after significant public pressure. In an attempt to explain itself, DGS really angered ANC6b when they truly flubbed a presentation; I have never seen the ANC get any madder. Mr. Forest Hayes came around to the next ANC6b meeting intent on making amends; among other things, he promised a 5 Year Plan for Eastern Market. As someone who has been closely involved in market affairs for a long time, I recall thinking that he just dreamed that up out of thin air. He was rolling together some pretty dissimilar issues and resorting to the most hackneyed trick in the book – the overpaid out-to-town expert – here to manufacture consent. We have seen it so many times before. We at the market can only envy the budget for this kind of political show, which we could put to such good use; it is most likely several times our entire promotional budget.

    Under existing law, (there is law governing Eastern Market in the DC Code – Title 37) there is already a potentially strong forum for community and stakeholder interaction on Eastern Market, and that is EMCAC. It has been allowed to politically ossify, eliminating its own term limits, seating community organizations that no longer exist, and not making room for relevant community organizations that actually do exist.

    If there was political courage to reform EMCAC, there would be no need for the taxpayers to fund this kind of political show, and the good people of the market would be spared another bitter season of political wrangling. But here is good news – no matter bureaucratic career and vanity fiefdoms, Eastern Market always survives and even flourishes.

    • Kim C

      I believe the market is on it’s last legs. The Quality produce and product is sold and the market is done downhill over the years. The Hines School retail plan and Trader Joes are the beginning of the end.

  6. Shirley

    The merchants should pay for their own study. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for it.

    I’m tired also of the merchants complaining. All too often, I’ve stood waiting at the counter, for someone to get in the mood to wait on me, and it hasn’t been because there is a long line of people in front of me.

    • anon_1

      EM is a dinosaur. I marvel at the wonderful and food forward Union Market and scratch my head over EM. The place is overwhelmingly meat/fish/poulty purveyors to the detriment of much of anything else. Even if you do shop at the few other options the stench is overwhelming. AC only fixes so much. Tourists would buy (much like Union Market) if there were more things to buy that didn’t require de-boning. EM is not the kind of market that sufficiently serves its community, which does include tourists. Trader Joes and Wholes foods are going to make much of the current EM setup even more obsolete.

  7. Sandy

    Turning Eastern Market into Union Market does not serve the community. Years ago there was talk of modernizing it into an Inner Harbor-type shiny food hall, and the community was appalled then. Doesn’t anyone remember the morning the market burned? The sidewalk was full of people in pajamas and business suits, mostly in tears. No one was celebrating an opportunity to rebuild the place for tourists. We wanted it back exactly as it had been before and we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to do that. We wanted to be able to continue to buy our food from merchants and farmers whose families we had come to know and who knew our own children, while receiving selection and cooking advice or commenting on the weather, holiday plans or local events. We wanted to meet and exchange greetings and information with our neighbors, who were doing the same. These interactions, that are hallmarks of true community, don’t take place at a Trader Joe’s register or a quicky cash exchange over a counter. Union Market has its place and constituency, but so does Eastern Market. However, if community is dying here, that’s another ballgame.

    • MD

      There has to be a middle ground between EM (which, other than the meat counters and Market Lunch, pretty much sucks) and Union Market (wayyy too expensive and precious). Something more like Reading Terminal in Philly, which has great food and produce and is a huge draw for tourists and locals. It’s inexplicable to me why EM retains such bad vendors indoors and out. This is PRIME urban real estate and there’s simply no excuse for the soap guy, the random vegetable lady, and 8 gagillion earring stands. I’d love to go there to do all my produce shopping and grab a bite to eat, but the options just aren’t there. So instead, I’ll opt for Trader Joes and Bullfrog Bagels (when it opens).

    • Ken C

      Your view is not representative of the greater community.

      I live just a few houses away from the market and shop there grudgingly. Customer service is so-so, and the quality is on par Safeway.

      When Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and rest of hines school retailers open up shop, we’ll see Eastern Market vendors begin to go out of business.

      To save the Market we need to shake things up. Many of the vendors are behind in rent — doubling failing business model is not going to help The vendors, and will ultimately lead to the markets demise.

      Finaly, the Market belongs to the District of Columbia and by extension D.C. tax payers, there’s no room for personal relationships in this discussion.