Food Fracas at the Market

Posted October 26, 2007 at 5:00pm

The Eastern Market Community Action Committee voted to allow the D.C. Office of Property Management to maintain control of Seventh Street Southeast after a dispute arose that there were too many vendors crowding the road.

“We approved an initiative to retain and ensure control of the street by OPM through their agent, Eastern Market Ventures,” EMCAC Chairwoman Donna Scheeder said.

Debate over the street arose when vendors began to complain that some of the merchants in the Market 5 Gallery, a company that holds a sublease with Eastern Market Ventures, did not have a right to be on Seventh Street.

After the fire that gutted the market in April, many of the Eastern Market vendors set up shop outside of the building prior to being moved into a temporary structure across the street known as “East Hall.” As a result, some of the artisan or non-food vendors who pay rent from Market 5 Gallery were displaced from the North Plaza and the natatorium and began vending along the east side of Seventh Street.

“Market 5 has the right to charge rent for the space that is allotted to it in the North Hall plaza. The space across the street is not allotted to North Hall,” Scheeder said.

According to Market Manager Bryan Cook of Eastern Market Ventures, Market 5 Gallery has been “delinquent in their payments.”

Officials at Market 5 Gallery could not be reached for comment.

Eastern Market is designed to be self- sustaining, but Cook says this loss in rent is hurting those efforts. Cook would not discuss figures, though he did say he is working with the D.C. Office of Property Management to recoup these funds.

“We’re studying [the problem] and taking very seriously the position of EMCAC,” OPM spokesman Bill Rice said.

During the post-fire shuffling, several new vendors like Crepes at the Market and the Pretzel Twist arrived at Eastern Market, causing some merchants to complain about unfair competition. These merchants argue that established businesses like Prego and Tunnicliff’s Tavern are spending lots of money on rent and taxes only to have their profits cut by a food stand that is paying a significantly lesser amount in rent.

There are many businesses located on Seventh Street that depend on weekend profits, Thomas Glasgow of Market Lunch said in a phone interview. “Is it fair for the city to bring a business right outside their door where the guy is paying the minimum to be here?”

The D.C. Office of Property Management, which contracts the market out to Eastern Market Ventures, was asked to come up with a solution for the crowding on Seventh Street.

The office circulated a proposal suggesting that all of the food vendors, such as Crepes at the Market and the Pretzel Twist, be moved to the natatorium to the west of the market.

OPM also suggested that they alert artisan vendors currently located on Seventh Street that the space is no longer available and that they must move to the North Plaza.

The proposal was met with disdain at Tuesday night’s EMCAC meeting at the Old Naval Hospital.

“When anybody looks at the market they know the heart is Seventh Street,” said Larry Gallow, who represents the artisans. “I think this proposal guts the heart of the market to the detriment of everyone!”

Monty Edwards of the Stanton Park Neighborhood association echoed this sentiment saying, “We’re just moving the thing that’s not being managed rather than managing.”