Food Fight at Eastern Market – Push Back on Plan to Open Market on Mondays

The Eastern Market Tenant’s Council and a few observers met in the Market Manager’s Office Thursday night.

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.


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19 responses to “Food Fight at Eastern Market – Push Back on Plan to Open Market on Mondays

  1. Karl

    These are all reasonable suggestions. I don’t mind them having Monday off. I don’t mind paying in cash, either. I would like to see prices posted. I always leave the South Hall feeling like I’ve been ripped off.

    • Barbara Humphrys

      Karl: In what way do you feel “ripped off?”. That’s a pretty strong statement; would you like to reconsider it? (No, I’m not a merchant, just a long-time, concerned customer.)

      • Karl

        As I say, it is a feeling. I’ve felt I was charged more based on my apparent ability to pay more. If that isn’t happening, that’s good. Better yet, post prices.

  2. I’ve been shopping at the Eastern Market since the mid 1970s. The market is closed on Mondays, so what? Everybody knows that, and it’s open the other six days. (I hate to alert the market manager, but the market is not open at 2 a.m. any day; I hope the manager doesn’t get any bright ideas.) How would you like it if your boss required you to work seven days a week? Leave it alone.

    It’s not unreasonable to require that prices be posted, tho I think cards ought to be at the discretion of the merchant, and Bitcoins as well.

  3. Elizabeth eby

    20% off on Mondays? That’s an incentive I can’t resist. Post prices, take cards

  4. How about Monday closed, and discounts on Thursdays? Then everyone is happy.

  5. kandc

    If you want them to post prices, ask them specifically when they will post the prices and then DO NOT buy or make sure you get an answer as to when. You have to make them understand that your buying depends on their putting prices up.

    No one needs them open on Monday–they are right about that–they need some down time too.

  6. John

    It’s astonishing to see a group of “merchants” dismiss all of the customer requests. If they plan to survive long term, then the merchants need to adopt business practices that are widely expected by today’s consumers. Closing the market at 7:00 PM makes it inaccessible to most residents in the neighborhood (check out the line at Harris Teeter or Trader Joe’s at 7:45 PM), and few people carry cash in any meaningful quantities these days. Saying no to all of these requests is only feasible due to the below market (i.e. District subsidy) rates that the vendors enjoy.

    • Mark Ugoretz

      They’re already putting in a 12 hour day M-F, 11 hours on Saturday, and 8 hours on Sunday. Most of the inside merchants take credit cards; I can think of only two that don’t – Market Lunch and Bowers. It’s the outside vendors that tend to only take cash.

  7. Mark Ugoretz

    I see no good reason for the market to be open on Monday’s and I doubt that many residents care. I’ve been shopping at EM since 1968 and somehow I’ve been able to plan around a Monday closing. Most of the merchants already post prices. I don’t have a problem with asking the cost and if it’s too high, I can walk away. Since I know some merchants only take cash – especially outside vendors – because credit cards are costly, I usually carry cash (I’m still old-school). But my major complaint about the market is the failure of the managers to publicize the market and get more buying customers into the place. The north hall could be used for cooking demonstrations to push product and attract customers during the week. Union Market management, for example, hypes their operation and it shows. Eastern Market management doesn’t and it shows.

  8. Bobbi Krengel

    These issues, while both critical and urgent, are neither new nor unique. Every historic municipal public market has faced them, and this is why there exist experts who study and advise on them. Its time to both heed the now 10 year old report by the Project for Public Spaces on Eastern Market presented to the community at the Hine auditorium in January 2008, and engage PPS to update it. These problems require professional help and its foolish to deny that.

    • Doug

      Good point. Any report that is 10 years old is pre-Smartphone, pre-electronic payment, pre-social media, pre a lot of things we take for granted now.

      Market is closed on Monday, it would seem wrong if it wasn’t.

  9. Rick

    If the price isn’t posted, just ask. How hard is that?

    • 8th Street SE

      I wouldn’t say it’s hard but it takes 5-10 minutes to get a hold of someone to ask, and most of us don’t have that kind of patience. It also makes it hard/time consuming to compare prices on different items and among different vendors.

      • Mark Ugoretz

        My previous comment was to just ask the price since I can understand why a vendor operating his stand alone and selling many different products would find it onerous to post prices on fresh products whose cost and prices might change daily, especially on products like produce. However, any vendor reading this blog should correctly determine that it would be in his/her best interest to post prices if they can. But it still doesn’t bother me to ask. And if the price is too high it doesn’t bother me to tell them. It also doesn’t bother me to tell a vendor that their vegetables or fish or whatever have seen better days and they need to up their game. (That certainly worked back in the day at a certain local supermarket, once notorious for selling wretched produce.) But the point is, Eastern Market isn’t a supermarket. It’s different. The stalls are owner operated, often by a single person and the marketing exigencies are much different than a chain supermarket. Frankly, I kind of like it.