The Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) Executive had an open meeting Saturday afternoon to discuss the status of Seventh Street SE.
Attendees included merchants from inside the market building, outdoor vendors from the publicly-managed outdoor market on the 200 block of Seventh Street SE and the two privately-managed outdoor ‘flea’ markets on the 300 block of Seventh Street SE, along with Seventh Street SE business owners and residents from the area.
After the 2007 fire at Eastern Market, the street on the 200 block of Seventh Street SE was closed to accommodate the farmers and outdoor flea market vendors from under the farmer shed, the plaza and inside the south market building itself. Since that time the market on the 200 block has been managed directly by the city. The weekend flea markets operated in the parking lot and athletic courts of the Hine School until 2015, but were temporarily moved to the 300 block of Seventh Street between C Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE until a space for them on the 700 block of C Street SE and an adjacent plaza is completed as part of the Hine Project.
EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder said before the meeting began that EMCAC was asking for public opinion so that they could write an informed recommendation on the future status of Seventh Street SE to the Mayor’s Office, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Department of General Services (DGS).
Asked about the short notice for the meeting, Vice-Chair Chuck Burger said that the District had promised ample notice before a decision about the status of Seventh Street SE was made, but EMCAC had reason to suspect that the District would make some decision soon, and they wanted to ensure that there was public opinion on record.
“Let me be clear,” Burger said, “the only reason we’re on this tight schedule is because we were worried there was going to be no time at all. If we could extend this another three months, we would. We had the impression that there was a very short window before some very serious decisions, whatever they were, were going to be made.”
Many merchants from inside the market building said they wanted the streets reopened to traffic. They said the lack of parking on Seventh Street SE was hurting their businesses.
William Glasgow, who has worked since 1961 at the Union Meat Company in Eastern Market, was one of several indoor market merchants that said that the closure of the 200 block of Seventh Street SE after the Eastern Market fire and the closure of 300 block for the Hine Project were the right thing to do at the time. Now, he said, the non-food vendors outside the building have three times the space they had before the fire, and the fresh food vendors have been damaged by the process.
“We have held on thinking that finally the street would open and we could try to rebuild our businesses,” he said.
Other indoor vendors asked for the street to be opened, with modification. Angie Brunson of Blue Iris Flowers inside Eastern Market said that she wanted the 200 block of Seventh Street to stay closed to traffic but the 300 block to be open to traffic once the flea markets move to C Street SE. She said Eastern Market does not need the addition of more vendors in that space.
She said her millennial customers love the atmosphere created by the weekend street closure. “On Saturday and Sunday that’s what the feeling is for Eastern Market, it’s like a festival and people like to come.”
Brunson also reported that business is down Tuesday through Thursday, and it has been since the fire regardless of construction, but that business has increased on Sundays, leading many merchants who previously remained closed on that day to open.
Last week, a position paper asking the city to reopen the streets was circulated for signature among the businesses on Seventh Street SE. Joe Snyder, an arts and craft vendor outside the market for eight years, said after further conversation many of those that had signed the paper later withdrew their names.
Outdoor vendors from both blocks called for the street to remain closed, even after the space on C Street SE becomes available to the flea markets. Nikki Dean, who has been an outdoor vendor on the 200 block of Seventh Street SE for 11 years, said, “no one is talking about the fact that if Seventh Street closes [to pedestrians], there will be 35 businesses out of business, because they have nowhere to be absorbed at Eastern Market.”
“Those people have families that they’re trying to support. They come to this vibrant market that we’ve created to make ends meet,” she said.
Carol Wright, who manages the Saturday flea market on the 300 block of Seventh Street SE under the title of Washington Arts, Antiques, Crafts & Collectible Associates (WAACA), agreed, but said that she would abide by the will of the community. In April, believing that she could move to C Street SE in July, Wright asked the city for permission to also remain on the 300 block of Seventh Street once C Street was complete.
Wright noted that she had a license to operate on the 300 block of Seventh Street SE until November 1st, which she felt should allow sufficient time to gather community opinion. “Whatever the city’s asking from you, ask for an extension of time,” she told the EMCAC Executive. “The whole entire community has the right to say whether they want us to stay on there or not.”
Wright said she believed this was possible because in response to her request to remain on the 300 block of Seventh Street SE, DGS sent her a letter saying that they would not make that decision until after they got opinions from EMCAC, the community, the ANC and the new EMMS.
She said she had told DGS that WAACA would not legally fight a decision to open the street to traffic at this point, if they would agree to re-examine the closure of 300 block after a year had passed.
The EMCAC Vice-Chair asked Wright to share the letter with the executive.
Residents expressed a desire for the street to remain closed to cars. One said that she did not see how the outdoor vendors, who largely sell arts, crafts and clothing, could be considered competition for the indoor merchants. Another resident who had lived in the area since 1985 and shops regularly at the Market said that she would like to see all the streets near Eastern Market closed to traffic, both blocks of Seventh Street SE and the 700 block of C Street SE.
She said, “Speaking as a resident who enjoys both inside and outside [vendors], the vibrancy of having streets open has totally changed the complexion of this neighborhood.”
Other residents called for studies of ‘who uses Eastern Market, and how they get there,’ and of the effect of street closures on business and safety in the area. One resident said that the addition of restaurants and vendors to the neighborhood did nothing to improve walkability of the neighborhood when merchants that fill other needs are being lost. She asked that the street be reopened for a year to determine the effect on the market vendors.
Another asked what impact the parking garage in the Hine Project, which has a C Street SE entrance, would have on the markets. She asked why there were no representatives attending the meeting from the Hine Project developer, Stanton-Eastbanc, or from DGS, managers of Eastern Market.
Seventh Street SE merchants also called for more information. Roberta Blanchard, operator of Fairy Godmother Toys, noted that she felt unable to offer an opinion on the continued closure of the street in front of her shop without knowing who would manage it and how it would be set up, adding that the future tenants of the Hine Project were likely to have their own opinions on the matter. She noted that the flea market would not be losing space if the street were opened to traffic, as they would gain the 67 spaces on the 700 block of C Street SE.
EMCAC Executive said that there will be another meeting to gather public input on the topic at 7 p.m. Tuesday August 15, and that additional meetings may be scheduled. Scheeder said that she had received 65 separate submissions by email on the topic, and that the record would remain open until August 22. Written comments can be submitted to EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder by email at Donna_Scheeder@comcast.net.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B will also seek public input in a Special Call meeting to be held after their own executive meeting on August 29.