Eastern Market Set To Reopen

Posted June 24, 2009 at 3:26pm

Eastern Market will reopen on Saturday, more than two years after a fire gutted the historic structure and left vendors without a storefront. After $22 million worth of renovations, the market that was a part of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s original city plan will welcome shoppers once again.

“I feel like running a victory lap around the market,— says Donna Scheeder, chairwoman of the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee. “The fire of course allowed [and] required us to do things that would not have gotten done before, so it was a blessing in disguise.—

When a blaze gutted the historic structure on April 30, 2007, there was concern that the market would be left in ruin much like the O Street Market, which has been vacant since the roof collapsed in 2003. Upon hearing news of the fire, Members of Congress, local leaders and Washingtonians of all stripes were quick to rally in support of the market and its vendors.

“The only time that I was in doubt was when I was watching the market in flames and I did not know if they were going to be able to save the building,— Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells (D) says. “After we determined that the building did not have to be demolished for being unsafe, then I knew that we would rebuild it.—

As word of the fire spread, various fundraisers were thrown for the renovation across Capitol Hill, including happy hours and concerts. Online groups soon sprouted up with names like “Rebuild Eastern Market,— while T-shirts were sold with an image of the building on the them.

“The love for Eastern Market knows no bounds,— D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said several months after the blaze.

Since opening its doors in 1873, Eastern Market has been a social hub on Capitol Hill. Members and Hill residents alike rise on Saturday and Sunday mornings to get coffee and breakfast at the market while they do the week’s shopping. Many customers have gotten to know the 14 vendors housed in the market by name.

“People come there because they have a relationship with their merchants and the merchants know who you are. They’ll ask about your family,— Scheeder has said of the market.

A temporary structure, known as East Hall, was built adjacent to the market in August 2007 to house the vendors. While minor issues like poor drainage plagued the structure, it did keep the vendors in business during the renovation. With counters, refrigeration space and telephones, vendors were able to conduct business in an environment similar to that of the South Hall.

While the fire was no doubt a dark moment for the market, perhaps there was a silver lining. Long before the blaze, city officials had been trying to renovate the aging building, but with little to no success. In addition to repairing fire damage, much-needed renovations such as installing air conditioning and new plumbing, were incorporated into the renovation plans. The construction of East Hall allowed the city to take a bit more time to repair the market and make all the necessary updates to the structure.

“It’s a very delicate and complex task to restore a historic building,— Scheeder told Roll Call last summer. “Because we have everybody in business, I’m willing to make sure we take the time to do it right.—

These updates include a new floor to go along with the new heating and air-conditioning system, both of which will make the market more comfortable for shoppers and vendors — not to mention that there will also be new bathrooms.

While much is new, the market retains its historic integrity. The interior walls are painted salmon, just as they were when the building opened in the 19th century, and much of the coolers and other mechanical devices are hidden away in the basement.

“I’m thrilled because it means our market will be back open and in business,— Wells says, “but what’s really amazing is what a fantastic job has been done restoring the building.—