Eastern Market Advisory Committee Rejects Proposed Rent Increase for Eastern Market Merchants

Eastern Market, Tuesday night, October 4, circa 8:20pm. A Trader Joe’s customer walks through the Eastern Market Farmer’s Shed.

Eastern Market Advisory Committee Rejects Proposed Rent Increase for Eastern Market Merchants

by Larry Janezich

Last night, the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) stood up on its hind legs and voted unanimously (8 – 0) to reject the city’s proposal for raising rents on Eastern Market South Hall merchants and the appraisal process by which the proposed rents had been determined.  They called for the city to put a hold on any rent increase and said they want a monthly report on income and expenditures for the Market.  They also urged the city to use a holistic approach going forward to assess all components of Eastern Market to create a strategic marketing plan for the Eastern Market Special Use District (SUD).  (The latter refers to the sidewalks and public space around Eastern Market and the Rumsey Aquatic Center, 7th Street from North Carolina to Pennsylvania Avenues, and the newly reopened C Street between 7th and 8th Streets.)

Last month, the Department of General Services released an appraisal designed to determine the fair market value of stall spaces inside Eastern Market.  The recommendations would establish a new baseline substantially increasing rents for all South Hall merchants, in some cases doubling them.  See Capitol Hill Corner’s post here:  http://bit.ly/2xtEs7l

South Hall merchants spoke strongly in opposition to the proposed rent increases.  Union Meat’s Bill Glasgow said that the merchants were “shell shocked” by the proposed increase.  Michael Bowers of Bowers’ Fancy Dairy Products said that an increase in rent would come out of his paycheck since he can’t raise prices if he wants to remain competitive.  In a written statement, Tom Calomiris of Calomiris’ Fruits and Vegetables said, “I get the feeling there is a grand plan to put us out of business. The elements are there – no accessibility, increased rents, and increased competition. The appraisal makes no sense.  An increase in the baseline will put the majority of us out of business.”

EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder said that the basic problem with the city-sponsored appraisal is that it ignores legislative requirements which put limits on rent increases for South Hall merchants.  She also agreed with the written comments of EMCAC member Richard Layman and the comments of Committee member Chuck Burger that any assessment needs to consider the totality of the Market.  She said EMCAC wants greater transparency on the budget, especially expenditures, continuing, “The main reason I disagree with the appraisal is I do not understand why the city has to establish a new baseline for rents higher that the average Capitol Hill (retail) rent.”  Other Committee members spoke against the rent increases.

Jonathan Page, the Mayor’s Representative, agreed with others that an appraisal doesn’t make sense if not part of a comprehensive review.  He cited the legislative requirement limiting rent increases to a percentage of the CPI and EMCAC’s response that the methodology used to determine fair rent totally ignores the requirement.

Susan Ousler representing the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, called the rent increase “outrageous”.  She said, “You have to show me why the city needs the money.”

EMCAC will meet again on Wednesday, October 25 to discuss a second, just completed appraisal, this one involving the stall spaces on the 300 block of 7th Street, SE, currently where the Saturday and Sunday flea markets set up.  Those markets are scheduled to move to C Street between 7th and 8th at the end of the month, though both flea markets have asked for an extension to their contracts which would let them use 7th Street as well.

EMCAC is the District’s legislatively established body which provides advisory and oversight responsibilities for Eastern Market and though they’re role is advisory, it is likely the vote will require the city back off on and reassess its approach to increasing revenues from Eastern Market.

Current members of EMCAC include representatives from ANC6B, Capitol Hill Restoration Society, Capitol Hill Association of Merchants, Eastern Market Preservation and Development Corporation, Stanton Park Neighborhood Association, a community representative, Ward 6 Council Office, the Mayor and representatives from the South Hall, Farmer’s Line and non-food merchants at the Market.


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8 responses to “Eastern Market Advisory Committee Rejects Proposed Rent Increase for Eastern Market Merchants

  1. John

    It’s not at all surprising that the Eastern Market vendors oppose rent increases. What’s more surprising, however, is that they fail to be competitive with such a substantial rent subsidy from the District government.

  2. Jamin Jimmy

    Could they at least get the vendor to agree to at least once in a while change-up their merch? It’s the same things in the same showcases if you went five years ago or if you go tomorrow. A little variety would be nice.

  3. muskellunge

    Would like to know how often these appraisals are done? How long has it been since the last time the rents went up?

  4. Golem

    EMCAC did exactly the right thing and should be applauded for not following a badly developed analysis that failed to take into consideration the totality of the merchants competitive position, what the market management offers compared to the so-called “comparable” they relied on, the benefits to the local community as well as other variables that are unlike the “comparable.”

    • Hillyek

      Golem, not to put too fine a point on it, but what possible difference does “the totality of the merchants competitive position” make? If we cut through to the heart of what you’re saying, I think it’s pretty clear that you want the rent to be adjusted to the needs / effort / market viability of the merchants rather than, you know, letting them stand on their own two feet.

      I’ve been watching DC subsidies, market interventions, market distortions, and efforts to find a policy solution for so long I can’t believe I’m writing this but…why don’t we try just privatizing the market? This on-going soap opera has absorbed so much time and attention and energy from so many bright and capable people that could be better directed into something constructive I just want to scream.

    • John

      If the rents for Eastern Market vendors are subsidized by the District government, then the District government should subsidize the rents of ALL small businesses. Wouldn’t that be the fair thing to do?

      • Scott

        Eastern Market vendors rents are not subsidized. The legislation caps rent increases with cpi. It also requires the market to be self sustained and it is.

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