Food Fight at Eastern Market – Push Back on Plan to Open Market on Mondays
by Larry Janezich
Thursday night, the Eastern Market Tenant’s Council – comprised of representatives of the Eastern Market inside merchants and outside vendors – pushed back hard against several proposals to changes the rules and operations governing them and the Market. The changes were offered by Barry Margeson – the city official who manages the Market on behalf of the Department of General Services – who says they grew out of customer requests.
The proposals include – among others – that the Market remain open on Monday, that merchants in the South Hall be required to accept credit cards, that they be required to post prices on their products, and that they be open the same hours that the Market is open.
Margeson stressed that he was seeking input from the Tenant’s Council on the proposals and it was not his intent to make any changes without consulting with them.
On opening the Market on Mondays, Margeson said that competing markets are open seven days a week – except for Union Market – and that 63% of respondents to an on-line survey supported keeping the Market open on Monday.
Opening on Mondays was unanimously opposed by the merchants and vendors. One vendor said that “Monday is a slow day, and weekdays are already slow. We would have to provide extra stock and hire an employee. It’s a hardship.” Another said, “Monday is the day I get stock and take money to the bank. I can’t hire another person. One day a week off is not crazy.” A third asked, “How is this going to be paid for: security, cleanup, a Monday Manager? It involves a lot of expense for Eastern Market but provides little benefit for the merchants. It’s unfair to make us work seven days a week – we need downtime.”
Opposition to the credit card and pricing display requirements seemed to be based on interference with “what our rights are”, and the assertion “You shouldn’t tell us how to run our business.” One merchant submitted in a written statement, “Product pricing is a function between the business owner and their customers.”
When the group turned to the details of additional suggested changes on parking, loading, and hours for operation of individual stands, the discussion turned acrimonious, seeming more like a food fight than a session of a quasi-legislative body. Raised-voice arguments broke out with participants shouting at each other. Much of contentiousness was between representatives of the inside merchants and the outside vendors – reportedly because of vendors’ resentment over the continuing efforts of the inside merchants to close the 200 block of 7th Street to traffic on Sundays.
In the end, the body unanimously passed a resolution stating that the Tenant’s Counsel agrees with the management that there should be no change in market days or hours of operation until a “comprehensive process of consultation with the Tenant’s Counsel and the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee is completed according to regulations, which may include a concise market study”. The wording was intended to address a concern that presentation of the proposals and the discussion Thursday night did not constitute consultation which is required by city regulation.
It’s noteworthy that Margeson and the city do not have to heed the recommendation of the Tenant’s Council or the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee, both of which serve as advisory bodies to the Market Management. An effort by former Council Member Tommy Wells to create a stronger community-based governing body for Eastern Market failed when it was opposed by then Chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, Muriel Bowser.