New Player Says Eastern Market Is in Trouble – Releases Report on How to Save It

Ellen Opper-Weiner, President of Eastern Market Preservation and Development Corporation, releases a report on how to save Eastern Market.

Not everyone agreed the Market needs saving – pictured is Joe Snyder, an artist and street vendor whose business would suffer if one of the report’s recommendations – the opening of 7th Street to traffic on weekends – is implemented.

New Player Says Eastern Market Is in Trouble – Releases Report on How to Save It

By Larry Janezich

Last Tuesday morning, a new non-profit community organization – Eastern Market Preservation and Development Corporation (EMPDC) – held a news conference to release a report it commissioned from an expert in urban markets, listing a series of recommendations (see below) for saving Eastern Market as a food market.  The organization – currently with half a dozen or so members – is headed up by longtime community activist Ellen Opper-Weiner, who said, “The merchants and vendors at Eastern Market are an essential part of the Capitol Hill community.  Their businesses are being run into the ground by a bullying management who threatens retaliation when concerns are raised as opposed to addressing problems brought to its attention.  Eastern Market needs our support.”  A link to the group’s website and petition is here:

To that end, the group commissioned a study at a cost of $6,000 plus $2,100 in associated expenses, to bring in an outside expert – Aaron Zaretsky, executive director of Public Market Development, Inc., who the report states, has consulted on historic market operations for 40 years.  Zaretsky conducted 20 formal hour-long interviews with Eastern Market principals over four days in March of 2018, as well as “many informal discussions with a variety of tenants, residents and customers”.  Despite several attempts, he said, he was not able to interview current market management.

In related developments, at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) – established by the city to provide oversight and advice on the Market – Chairperson Donna Scheeder announced that $300,000 from the Eastern Market operating funds derived from Market revenues would be transferred to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to fund a long term strategic plan for the Market and its associated Special Use Area comprising the close-by streets and plazas where Market-related activities occur.  She also said that $25,000 would be transferred to the city’s budget to fund a security study anticipating the possible use of bollards to protect the Market and street vendors from vehicles on weekends.

At that meeting, Opper-Weiner told EMCAC about the new Eastern Market Preservation group and said they wanted to work with EMCAC for the benefit of the Market.  EMCAC board member Chuck Burger (who represents Capitol Hill’s micro Chamber of Commerce – CHAMPS – on EMCAC) said he had been interviewed for the report, and agreed with much of it.  “I don’t have a problem with the report”, he said, but was concerned that the public might confuse the new group with EMCAC given the similarity of the two groups’ logos.  He went on to say, “The report is a positive thing and should be put in the pool of ideas. “

The list of Zaretsky’s 29 recommendations – some of them new, some of them familiar, and some of them controversial include the following:

Immediately transfer management of the market to a temporary placeholder.

Contract Market management to a non-profit entity with a 12 member governing board with positions for market representatives, community representatives, and business experts, with designated seats for minority representation.

Open 7th Street and C Street to vehicular traffic seven days a week.

Move the weekend flea markets elsewhere.

Reconfigure the layout of the South Hall food merchants’ stalls and move refrigerated units to the basement to increase retail space.

Provide more special events and target programs for special populations such as ethnic food festivals and senior days with 10% off.

Strictly limit outside market vendors to artists and craft makers who create their own products.

Do not allow people who are not producers to sell at the market and do not allow real farmers to sell products such as oranges that are never locally produced.  Do not allow farmers who were grandfathered in 1997 to pass that right to their relatives.

Relocate the event functions of the North Hall to the Hill Center and fill the North Hall with complementary fresh food production and fresh food uses.

Fine any merchant or employee who parks on the street within two blocks of the Market.  Cancel all current tenant parking spaces in alleys or streets adjacent to the Market.

Efforts should be made to recruit additional African American vendors.

Provide fair, long term leases with Market tenants as soon as new management entity is formed.

Resist the temptation to offer uniformly upscale offerings.  Intentionally appeal to a racially and economically diverse customer mix.

The report states that the South Hall merchants (all but one were interviewed) were highly and universally critical of the current market management.  The report emphasizes that statute requires the city to contract with a nonprofit to manage the Market and that states that the market manager “should have experience operating an historic urban fresh food or farmers’ market”.  Asked for reaction to the report, representatives of South Hall merchants said they had not read the report and were uncertain whether merchants would take a position on the recommendations.

A link to the report with the complete list of issues and recommendations is here:



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24 responses to “New Player Says Eastern Market Is in Trouble – Releases Report on How to Save It

  1. muskellunge

    “Strictly limit outside market vendors to artists and craft makers who create their own products.”

    Having worked at a hand-made wood toy business — a total of three of us together — a couple of lifetimes ago, I find this requirement to be absurd. It is very difficult to make a living at hand crafts just producing. Selling the product at a weekly fair was never going to happen.

    There is a reason why retail separated long ago from production. You don’t have the bandwidth to make stuff and then try to sell it by travelling to a market.

    Let the folks that have tables do what they do best, finding things to sell that the passerbys want to buy.

  2. Robert McKeon

    Opening 7th Street on the weekends is just a non-starter.

    • Ken

      Agree 100%. My family lives less than a 2 minute walk from the market and we love the weekend flee market. On the other hand, the venders inside the market need to go. Thier prices are too high and the quality of goods and services poor. Most of the vendors are reselling meats and produce purchased from Costco at a markup.

  3. Ellen

    Some of these I have no opinion on, some were good, some inexplicable to me as an outsider but….

    Strictly limit outside market vendors to artists and craft makers who create their own products.
    Isn’t that what most of the vendors already are? Some food and antique vendors stick around but I see the same artists/crafters and their same products every weekend.

    Open 7th Street and C Street to vehicular traffic seven days a week. and Move the weekend flea markets elsewhere.
    If you did move the flea market then you could open 7th but I think the inside vendors get a lot out of the weekend flea market and I suspect wouldn’t themselves be happy with that. They just want it to g back to car traffic on 7th under the delusion that many people drive and park to come into the market (except that all the spots were pretty much taken by weekend vendors and anyone who knew better, knew to stay away in a car). As for moving it were there suggestions that actually made sense? Lets say they move it to the Metro plaza will people walk to the market building or just skip that in lie of going down 8th or just staying on Penn? Would you move it even farther away at which point it is no longer a concern.

    This is obviously a very “just about the market” report and seems to discount the value that the outside vendors bring to the whole weekend picture – what both indoor and outdoor vendors give to each other. Sure they mention the limit on the outside vendors, but the talk of moving it seems to be in direct opposition to that limiting the vendors thing.

  4. Yes, there are serious issues with the market. But the study that Mr. Zaretsky did, while it has some important recommendations that ought to be acted on, is also seriously under-informed.

    It ascribes the major economic issues to weekend closure of 7th St. and “lack of parking” but fails to acknowledge (1) a massive increase in competition for food sales in the Capitol Hill retail trade area*, 11 new full line supermarkets + Yes, MOM and other stores have opened in a 2 mile radius of Eastern Market from the time I joined the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee in 2007, when there were only 3 such stores, all very average Safeways–it might be the most competitive supermarket retail trade area in the United States; (2) the number of farmers markets has increased dramatically; (3) as has the number of places where arts and crafts and flea marketers can sell their wares; (4) plus Union Market, Navy Yard, and the Wharf are now “destinations” that also compete with the Eastern Market “district” for patronage.

    Furthermore the supermarket industry is incredibly roiled generally, irrespective of the increase in competition for food sales in Capitol Hill:

    – general merchandise stores adding food (CVS, Walgreen’s has entered the market, Target, etc.)
    – online commerce and food delivery such as Peapod and others
    – meal kits — just yesterday, Kroger, owner of Harris-Teeter, purchased a meal kit company, the owner of Safeway did the same a few months ago (and I see plenty of Blue Apron and Hello Fresh boxes discarded in people’s recycling)
    – greater competition (new entrants in urban markets like Walmart and Wegmans)
    – business failure (Magruders went out of business, Superfresh, Safeway has closed stores even while they’ve built new stores and renovated others, in other markets supermarket chains continue to go into bankruptcy and/or close)
    – supermarkets adding prepared food and restaurant options (H-T was a pioneer here, now Wegmans is entering the area, the new H Sreet Whole Foods Market has a pub and other dine-in options)
    – supermarkets adding dietitians to staff, etc.
    – pharmacy (I’ve wondered if the market should try to get an independent pharmacy, could do combined delivery, etc.)

    PLUS, within the last couple years, now more than 50% of food consumption occurs outside of the home, food purchased at restaurants and other out of home locations (carry out, etc.). (Not to mention, many people don’t know how to cook.).

    For the most part, the food offer at the market hasn’t responded to these changes in market conditions.

    These competitive facts are likely the primary reason that the sales of food at Eastern Market have declined.

    Closing the street on the weekends should be seen as a competitive advantage, not a detriment. Although it does mean that more attention needs to be paid to accommodating parking needs, something that hasn’t been done.

    * I am defining the retail trade area as a 2 mile radius from Eastern Market. As of 2007 there were 3 Safeways (KY Ave., Waterfront, Hechinger Mall). Since the first new market opened in 2008 (Harris-Teeter, Potomac Ave.) there are now 4 Safeways, 3 Harris Teeters, 2 Whole Foods (one under construction), 2 Trader Joes, 1 Walmart, 1 Aldi, 1 Giant. The Yes was open before 2007, but not the MOM that is at Ivy City.

  5. I am an Eastern Market artist/painter and the guy holding the sign in the photo above. The sign is about contradicting this new group’s launching premise – Easter Market is endangered and, boy, have we got the plan for you – it just reminded me too much of the recent Presidential American Carnage Speech, and thus begged for contradiction. The market does indeed face real challenges, but removing 40 street vendors from Eastern Market proper by opening the 7th Street, and separating as many as 100 people from their livelihood by eliminating the flea markets is certainly no way to build the brand that weekend outside and South Hall have built together over decades.

    The author of this report to claims to have had 45 years of experience with Eastern Market from out there on the west coast, but the bulk of this report results from lengthy, detailed interviews with 20 people which were conducted over two 48 hour periods. I was never aware of any public call for participation, nor heard of anyone else being contacted. Of the hundreds of individuals involved in Eastern Market, I bet I could cherry-pick 20 to come to any conclusion that I wanted to reach. It is not surprising that the recommendations of this report sound incredibly like opinions that we have heard from the funders of this report for many years. That is my opinion, as well as the opinion of a lot of others. It is also my opinion that the funders of this report have been moderately successful at turning their opinions into ‘expert advice’ for a few thousand dollars.

    The real challenges facing the market is the incredible growth of alternative food shopping and destination opportunities in this city, as well as management improvements. The real solutions to these challenges will come from the real Strategic Study that Council Member Allen has appropriated $300,000.00 to commence shortly. It will include all stakeholders in a significant way with very broad array of experience. As for me, I am going to ignore this rather memorable launch effort by this new group.

  6. Lucian

    Trader Joe processed food, supermarkets not as fresh as EMKT.

  7. William

    As an owner of a local business within the corridor, I was not consulted on participation in the above report. We appreciate the closure of 7th Street, despite the fact that many of our clients need to drive to see us. The street closure creates community. I believe that opening the streets to traffic will have little to no positive impact upon the market itself it may in fact, hurt the market in the long-term. I look forward to a non-biased, comprehensive assessment of the area and traffic patterns. I am not taking positions on market management or vendors outside.

  8. Lucian

    Mr. Layman,
    Take away parking from all the markets that you mentioned and they will be screaming louder than some who is charged $10.00 to park near Eastern Market.

    • First, I never said parking isn’t important. Just that it isn’t the primary reason why Eastern Market’s food sales are severely declining, nor is the closure of 7th St. on weekends.

      The fact is that Eastern Market is a specialty grocer, not a mainline grocer, but people aren’t conceptualizing and positioning the market in that fashion.

      All of those supermarkets have a significant number of people who shop on foot. Pay attention to the number of customers who arrive and leave on foot at the Giant on H, the Harris Teeters, the Trader Joes, the Safeway at City Vista, Walmart, etc. It’s huge.

      Probably most of them have a majority, or a very large preponderance of customers who shop on foot. Plus, the kind of shopping is different large purchases — e.g., buying toilet paper, detergent, cases of water, diapers — which for a majority of people tends to “require” a car.

      But that isn’t really the point. For probably 10 years, I’ve advocated the creation of a “Transportation Management District” for Capitol Hill (I first suggested this for H Street c. 2005) where you provide coordinated parking wayfinding and guidance systems, that Hine should have had more parking to support not just Eastern Market, but the Capitol Hill district more broadly, that street parking time minimums should be at least 3 hours, and specifically with Eastern Market, valet parking and delivery services, and parking validation based on a minimum purchase number.

      While I haven’t written this up for EM lately, my clearest explication of how to do this is point #5 in this piece on Silver Spring:

      (Although it doesn’t cover delivery.)

      Note though that a “transportation management district” focuses on more than accommodating automobiles, that’s why I call it a TMD and not a parking management district, which is what they call them in Montgomery County.

  9. Oh, this was in my email box. One of the stands at Reading Terminal Market is starting delivery. Free in the city for purchases > $75, $125 in the suburbs.

    But I never advocated that each vendor would do their own delivery, but coordinated-collaborative delivery on the part of the Market as a whole. Depending on how it’s set up, it could even take people back home. For years and years I’ve mentioned how MegaMart/PanAm International, a Latino focused market with 8-10 stores in DC, MD, and VA, will drive people home after they shop if they purchase a minimum of $50 in groceries.

  10. We have been discussing &/or arguing about the Eastern Market as long as I can remember. In fact, someone should put together a summary of all the reports that have been commissioned over the decades on the market so that more recent residents can have a sense of how long the discussion has been going on. It’s not a new crisis, it’s not even a crisis, more like an ongoing neurosis. That said, the reader comments posted above are in the main more informed & more useful than the just issued report.

    Opening 7th St. & C St. on weekends, in effect, replacing the flea with automobile, trikes me as eminently stupid. We hired a consultant to fly all the way here from California for that? I would have personally paid him to just stay home. The weekend market carnival — farm produce, crafts, tchotchkes, ethnic food, antiques, art, etc. — is the attraction. It is the weekend market. Dan

    • John

      Ha! One should have known that a consultant from LA would be in favor of automobiles.

      As the great philosopher Alvy Singer once said, “I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.”

  11. correction: Opening 7th St. & C St. on weekends, in effect, replacing the flea market with automobile traffic, strikes me as eminently stupid.

  12. This new group is a danger to the strength and vitality of Eastern Market. I would participate in any efforts against this new group. EMCAC can be bad enough with its kneejerk protect the internal market (i.e., use taxpayer dollars to subsidize for profit, non-DC business owners in perpetuity), but this new group seems to be even worse.

  13. Lucian


    Farmers line Saturday and Sunday participants range from 6 to 13.

    Non- Food vendor spaces range from 68 to 80.

    North Plaza has 36 non-food spaces

    Vendors Big Numbers, 136 on the latest email list.

    Farmer’s line businesses are missing and others have modified their sales and product schedule.

    Farmer’s Line who have quit the Market

    Ms. Bowie, Uncle Brutha’s Hot Sauce, Arondo Holmes, Hondo Coffee Heather Caudel Wisteria Gardens

    Jerry Mark Flowers & Herbs, Myra Ceasar tea co, Steve & Heidi Adams Sweet Nut House

    Second Rising Bakery, Tom and Jacqui Hornsby from Happy Hens, Barbour Orchards Biglerville, PA

    • Eastern Market is no longer the #1 place in the city for a “farmers market.” Eastern Market doesn’t have the same sense of centrality compared to city markets in other places both indoors and outdoor.

      In DC there are probably at least 6-8 markets on Saturday and Sunday. There are weekend markets at Capitol Riverfront, H Street, Southwest, and NoMA close by, and major “regional” markets like Dupont Circle and Takoma on Sundays and Silver Spring and Columbia Heights on Saturdays. There are other markets throughout the city during the week.

      The food part of the market mostly serves the Capitol Hill area, plus the other patrons who come on the weekend. So it’s difficult to attract more vendors and preferred vendors, when they are able to be at another market on the same days and make more money.

      FWIW, farmers and nonprepared food sellers have priority for spots no matter the day. If they wanted to be there they could be.

      Again, the decline in sales is likely related to voracious competition as I outlined in a previous post, not the closure of the street on weekends. E.g., markets at Capitol Riverfront and SW and supermarkets on the south constrain the retail trade area, as do farmers markets at NoMA and H Street and 7 supermarkets in the H St. corridor constrain the retail trade area on the north, and markets at Southwest and in Downtown and 2 supermarkets retail trade area on the west. (Just outside of that two mile RTA on the west you have 2 Whole Foods, 2 Trader Joes, 1 Safeway, 1 Giant, and various small artisan grocers like Glen’s).

  14. Lucian

    So close the streets around those venues for “Flea Markets”.
    You won’t be able to print their reactions and comments.
    Get real. Let the people eat real food, not your un proven book stuck theories.

    • Calculating the impact of additional food sales within a retail trade area isn’t merely theory, it’s fact. (Although yes, theories like Reilly’s Law of Retail Gravitation and Central Place Theory are used to calculate business potential.)

      Since 2008, 10 new supermarkets have opened in the EM RTA. One is about to (Whole Foods). It’s probably the most competitive food RTA in the country. Plenty of markets have closed streets and/or flea markets/crafts, including Kensington Market in Toronto and Byward Market in Ottawa. Also more farmers markets and truck markets have opened in the EM RTA in the same period. Union Market has been revitalized and is heavily marketed. Navy Yard and The Wharf are newly development competitive destinations. Crafts markets operate elsewhere in the city and region, far more than when the EM crafts markets were created in the early 1990s. The Downtown Holiday Market captures sales during the holiday season.

      Most markets have proximate parking. So does EM. It’s just dis-coordinated and not marketed.

      Even Hyattsville does a better job than EM/Capitol Hill about identifying mobility options for its customers.

      I shared that brochure with stakeholders before the beginning of Hine demolition and reconstruction and nothing was ever done to create a comparable brochure/flyer here.

      (To be fair the Downtown BID’s provision of similar information is equally lacking. But that isn’t the point.)

      And as I said in other posts, there’s no conflict between accommodating cars and closing the street. 7th St. before the fire didn’t even have parking metering on the weekends, so parking spaces had minimal turnover, and on the 200 block there were something like only 7-11 free spaces on the east side as all the other spaces were taken up by vendors on the west side.

      The point is to provide parking wayfinding, valet services, parking validation, and delivery options. I’ve made these points for going on 10 years. Only now, when food vendors see a definite reduction in sales are they becoming more responsive to consideration of these alternatives.

      But yes, DCG doesn’t have good transportation demand management protocols for dealing with this. And the BIDs do a bit more (not the Capitol Hill BID) on the equivalent of Transportation Management Associations and transportation planning and coordination, but again, not in Capitol Hill.

      With the closing of the street at the very least parking coordination should have been provided and it wasn’t. And DCG hasn’t invested in transportation planning or marketing planning for the market either.

  15. anon

    Thank you @Richard Layman for summarizing the crux of the problem with Eastern market. The competitive landscape has dramatically changed and Eastern Market vendors have largely remained the same. I’d also add that the interior stalls are overwhelmingly centered on animal based products in an age where more consumers are seeking to increase plant based consumption. Personally I find Eastern Market has very little to offer even if I wanted to support it as a neighbor.

    • There are serious holes in the retail mix. For years, I’ve advocated for converting North Hall to food + mezzanine seating + demonstration kitchen (that could also function to support pop up restauranting at night). But unlike the report, I don’t think Hill Center suffices, instead I recommend rebuilding Rumsey with pool + a true urban community center, to incorporate the arts and flex space aspects provided by North Hall currently.

      Since the fire, I’ve advocated for digging out the basement and converting it to sales and support space.

      One thing the report gets right and the author has more defined expertise in that area than I do — is the reconfiguring of space on “the sales floor” to provide more space to serve customers, which would allow the addition of new vendors. Years ago I talked with the then manager of Lancaster Central Market, and she was floored at “the poor use of space in (y)our market.” Basement space would allow most of the walk in space to be moved underground.

      The other thing I discussed but not at the length it is deserving of is the impact of restaurant purchases, take out, and meal delivery/meal kits + food delivery. This is one of Peapod’s strongest markets. There is great opportunity here. Also some “commercial kitchen space” could be incorporated into the basement, to support this kind of product line extension.

      But yes, produce has a lot of opportunity. For years, I’ve advocated for developing closer relationships with the Ag. agencies of VA, MD, and WV to support Eastern Market, since we are a sales venue for them.

      DCG’s Food Policy Committee has never reached out to EM. It should be based there. WIC, SNAP and Senior Nutrition programs could use the demonstration kitchen for teaching. A “WIC” store could be put in the basement (these are stores that specialize in carrying the SKUs that WIC will pay for — although it’s probably not the right demographics for it). Etc.

      There are a lot of opportunities to do great things, but generally people aren’t particularly visionary. And most of the people involved with the market don’t even read the trade publications like Progressive Grocer, and Supermarket News. EM isn’t even a member of the national association of public markets. Etc.

      • anon

        Expanded local seasonal produce would be welcome, but as a functioning market there are so many holes, even compared to the relatively thin ‘grocery’ offerings at Union Market, where they’ve had things like pickles, fresh juice, spices, artisan baker, smoke shop, coffee/tea vendors etc. Other items like locally sourced honey, locally roasted coffee, etc. You can find some of these items in commercial grocery stores as well, but that’s the competitive landscape. There’s a place for meat/fish/dairy but instead of occupying 80% of the market it should be more like 20-30%

  16. Dan

    Eastern Market, by law, is a fresh food market.
    The fresh food market season is from Memorial Day thru Thanksgiving.
    Why is 7th Street closed during this crucial period dedicated to feeding DC citizens and others? Is the law of unintended consequences at play?