Housing Complex

Proposal to Re-Open Street Divides Eastern Market Vendors

The administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty closed a portion of 7th Street SE to accommodate vendors after a fire at Eastern Market in 2007.

The administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty closed a portion of 7th Street SE to accommodate vendors after a fire at Eastern Market in 2007.

Indoors versus outdoors. It's a debate as old as Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Yglesias. And now it's creating a schism at Eastern Market.

Some vendors inside the market are concerned that the closure of a section of 7th Street SE on weekends to accommodate outdoor vendors is hurting the business of the indoor vendors. Customers, they argue, have to park several blocks away, creating a disincentive to visit the market for their food shopping. So they've crafted a proposal to re-open the street on Saturdays, increasing the supply of nearby parking at the expense of perhaps a few dozen vendor stands on the street.

Bill Glasgow, who runs Union Meats and serves as the indoor vendors' delegate to the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee, says weekends account for 70 percent of vendors' sales, but that business drops off considerably on rainy days because people can't park close enough to the market. "The bottom line is, when is enough enough?" he says. "We’d like to at least have it open on Saturday so customers can pick up their meat without walking three or four blocks."

Needless to say, the proposal has not gone over well among the outdoor vendors.

Erika Rubel sells wall art outside the market and represents non-food vendors on EMCAC. She says the change wouldn't create much new parking, but would prevent about 30 vendors from operating. "A substantial portion of people would be put out of business," she says.

Glasgow counters that there are more than 200 vendors, and given the high turnover among them, the loss of 30 wouldn't make a big difference. He'd like a system, he says, that's more like 7-Eleven, where customers can park briefly to pick up their groceries. "I think it’s a pretty good compromise to open on Saturdays and keep it closed on Sundays for the vendors," he says.

The proposal to re-open 7th Street, first reported on the Capitol Hill Corner blog, is still just a proposal. Glasgow isn't sure what the next step is; for the proposal to move forward, EMCAC would likely have to approve it and petition the city to make the change. Which won't happen if the outdoor vendors have anything to say about it.

Photo by Arthur Delaney

  • sbc

    "business drops off considerably on rainy days because people can't park close enough to the market."

    OR because people usually walk or bike to Eastern Market and they won't do that in the rain?

    The indoor vendors could create a drop-off lane somewhere else and hire someone to run people's purchases over there. The people who want to drive to Eastern Market on a Saturday to pick up their meat would probably be willing to pay a small premium for the service.

  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisbossi/ Bossi

    I'm not sure aspiring toward 7-Eleven is the best way for someone to phrase it...

    Anyways, in my opinion the arrangement of the outdoor vendors itself tends to discourage access into the market proper. The vendors along 7th tend to align along 7th, which makes sense from their perspective as the natural path of customers is to walk one side, and perhaps turn back to walk the other side of the stalls.

    However, this arrangement forms a sort of barrier whereby people aren't really aligned toward the market's doors, and tend to pass it by (there are some who forget the building is even open & accessible, as it's so seemingly shunned).

    I'd wonder if rearranging the outside vendors into perpendicular rows -- using more of the streetspace -- would not just encourage visitors to spend more time mingling among the stalls (rather than hastily browsing as they quickly pass by), but also better align people into the building itself.

    Additionally, the narrow area on the west side is particularly uninviting, being dedicated to a strip of parking and the barren walls of the aquatic center. I'd wonder if a joint project between the market & aquatic center could clean this area up, introduce additional outdoor spaces for visitors, and help surround the building with a customer presence -- converting the building from a structure cast to the side to instead being the centerpiece.

  • Daniel

    Ugh. Glasgow apparently doesn't understand why people visit the market, especially on the weekends. Eliminating vendors in favor of parking and making the street a thoroughfare for cars instead of a calm pedestrian space would kill one of the most inviting weekend activity spaces in the city. If he thinks his business should be "more like a 7-11" he shouldn't be left with any responsibility in the way the market is managed.

  • http://twitter.com/jakesauser JES

    No. Just No. That area is mobbed with pedestrians on weekends. Adding cars to that fustercluck would be the dumbest thing they could possibly do. If you want to take vendors themselves off that street, then whatever. But you could do that and still keep it closed to vehicle traffic.

  • Sam

    1) The outdoor vendors only operate on weekends. And weekends account for 70% of the indoor vendors' business. So maybe, just maybe, the indoor vendors benefit from the foot traffic the outdoor vendors bring in, and therefore are better off with a better and more vibrant flea market?

    2) Really wish the neighborhood (my neighborhood) had coalesced around flea-market space as its priority for the Hine redevelopment. Obviously that was one issue, but seemed like it got overshadowed by complaints about the height of the building. Could have preserved more space for outdoor vendors and kept those 25 parking spots. And ended up with the same size building we're getting anyway.

  • HillGuy

    Eastern Market can easily create a "drop-off" line using the parking in the "alley" between the poll and the market. Right now that is one hour parking (except for the spaces that the indoor vendors use). Make it 15 minute and put a cop back there to right tickets -- as they did in the past.

  • mboy

    Eastern Market is fun on weekends. Don't change it.

  • Carole

    I am under the impression that most of the owners of indoor businesses at Eastern Market live in McLean and other areas of Northern Virginia. If that is true, it seems a bit tone-deaf for them to demand disruptive changes in a regime that attracts hundreds of people who walk, bike, and Metro to the Market so that they -- the owners -- can make more money on weekends.

  • DC

    Carole hit the nail on the head. When storeowners and restaurant owners drive to work, they have a bias towards thinking everyone drives. Add to it the fact that the only people who complain are drivers (even if they're a tiny minority) the owner will pay them too much mind.

  • confused

    Is there anyone here who doesn't think this is dumb? Why is this even a story? "Guy thinks cool market should be less cool" should be the headline. Is this actually creating a "schizm?". Come if city paper. You're not that desperate for traffic. Try a listicle if you are.

  • http://leftforledroit.com Left for LeDroit

    "Glasgow counters that there are more than 200 vendors, and given the high turnover among them, the loss of 30 wouldn't make a big difference."

    What if someone proposed randomly eliminating 15% of the indoor vendors to create a few indoor parking spaces. Would Glasgow like that?

  • http://leftforledroit.com Left for LeDroit

    Also, we need to stop saying that 7th Street is "closed" on weekends. It's just closed to automobiles. There are hundreds of people walking and biking through it on weekends. How on earth is it "closed"?

  • Tbonebullets

    Opening that street on weekends would result in two things: pedestrians getting hit by cars stupid enough to try to drive down that crowded street; and probably less people thinking Eastern Market would be a fun weekend excursion.

    The best way to make that street accessible for cars would be to get rid of all of the street vendors. ALL of them; including the outdoor flea market. Then there would be plenty of parking for customers to buy the indoor vendors' meat products.

  • Sensible Biker

    "When storeowners and restaurant owners drive to work, they have a bias towards thinking everyone drives."

    Same with many bicyclists: When store and restaurant patrons bike to shop at Eastern Market, they have a bias towards thinking everyone can/should/will.

  • AB

    What a terrible proposal.

  • Richard

    Terrible idea.

    I guess Baltimore's similar markets have garages nearby for the super rich, must drive crowd. Perhaps the indoor venders who think there is such a great business case for parking would be happy to invest in an underground parking garage to increase their business.

  • TransitSnob

    Maybe we should just tear down a few block of houses too and build a great big parking lot. We could widen all the streets so that folks from way far away could conveniently drive there. Wouldn't that be just wonderful; and great for business too! Here's what it could look like:

  • Fabrisse

    I go to Eastern Market by bus or on foot. I go there for the outdoor vendors as much if not more than the indoor vendors. If the outdoor vendors go, then the indoor vendors lose me, and people like me, who would otherwise have bought from them. I don't think they've thought this through very well.

  • maktoo

    @Richard - Do you actually think that Baltimore's "super rich" shop at the city's markets? Um, no - Baltimore's a driving town unless you're poor. And the buses are unreliable.

    The garages are there for handicapped access, for those who are buying a lot of stuff, for those stopping by on the way to/from work in a car, and generally to keep your car out of the sun in the summer.

  • RP

    Presumably Glasgow has gotten complaints about parking from some of his customers. So as another of his customers, I will offer him a different anecdote that he can run with:

    If you make the outdoor market a less desirable place (ie. your proposal), I will be much less likely to visit the market on weekends. If I don't visit the market on weekends, you will lose my business. Simple as that.

    As for rainy days, Glasgow completely misses the point. It has nothing to do with parking and everything to do with the fact that the big draw (outdoor market and flea market) aren't enjoyable in the rain. If anything, parking is a lot easier on rainy days because there's a lot less competition for the street spaces.

  • likedrypavement

    I like Bossi's idea to reconfigure the road and parking on the west side of the market. The market is a fun street fair on the weekends precisely because pedestrians can walk around safely without having to worry about getting run down by cars. There are far too few places like that in DC.

    Eastern Market is well served by Metro, buses, bikes, and walking. Bring the west side road into the party by converting it to more party space. The few cars that can park there are not worth the disruption and danger they present to pedestrians and the parking's removal would be more than offset in benefit to the market as a whole: more vendor and pedestrian space. Right now the west side road is an eyesore and a dead zone occupying prime real estate, and the cars driving in and out of it on weekends are a danger to the throngs of foot traffic and a spoiler of the fun street party vibe.

  • http://www.RonaldRHanna.com SE Author

    Love visiting Eastern Market on weekends, and especially when peaches are in season. I wouldn't DARE consider driving there! I cringe at seeing the few motorists who DO try and navigate the small segment of 7th from Penn. to the Market. What WERE they thinking? It's pedestrian friendly. Let it remain that way.

  • MLD

    Mr. Glasgow clearly doesn't get that the stalls outside and people drawn to Eastern Market by them are of way more benefit to his business than a few parking spaces.

  • Jeff

    Terrible idea for all the reasons listed above plus this: do you realize how crowded it is to walk through the market even with the street closed? Imagine how much harder it will be with that street closed and how much less comfortable it will be to walk around there, which is what draws the big crowds. Without that pedestrian friendly feel fewer people will go to the Market and their business will decline. Also see Sam's response (#5). Please don't let this happen people.

  • ET

    I am sorry but I remember when - not that it was all that long ago - 7th was open to vehicular traffic on the weekends and frankly closing it was the best thing to happen to the weekend outdoor/indoor market. The ability to part on that block was nil for short term visitors because it was all taken up with vendor trucks so that argument holds no water for me. As for having to part too far always, anyone driving down there always had to part too far away because all the parking on the street was mostly vendors.

    Add to that anyone who didn't know better and ended up driving in that block found it took forever to get though to get thought it because of watching out for people walking between cars to get to the other side of the street. The atmosphere for people is to much better when people are spread between walking under the shed and walking in the street.

    I am sorry but I really and truly don't believe for a solitary second that blocking traffic on that one block on the weekends seriously impacts foot traffic for the indoor vendors. What may impact it more is that the mix of the outdoor vendors has gone from flea market and agricultural products to import/craft and agricultural products - a change that might limit how often those who do go actually go as the import/craft products don't change much from Saturday/Sunday and week to week.

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