Thursday, May 3, 2007

Rough Week

Like many if not most DC folk, I took Monday's fire at Eastern Market pretty personally. It's one of the key places in the city-as-I-know-it. I remember going there with Tes the day after I first moved here and looking around and thinking,"yeah, I've moved to a good place." Since then I've spent countless Saturdays nosing around there. My house has paintings and furniture I've bought there; I've found achingly beautiful fruits and vegetables there that I've cooked amazing things with. I've been regularly abused by the surreally surly counter staff at Market Lunch. I've been thinking that when I eventually move out of my house, I'd like to find a place in Capitol Hill so I can make Eastern Market my regular grocery store. The fire was a real sucker punch to the soul.

On the bright side, there's a high likelihood that the rebuilt and repaired Eastern Market will bear some resemblance to its former glory, though it will take time for the majesty and funkiness of the place to reassert itself. And maybe--just maybe--some of the vendors will keep it together enough in the interim that they'll be able to return when the building reopens. That's the real concern, of course. I'm impressed that most of the concern expressed in the media has been about the Market as the centerpiece of a community, as opposed to merely a historically important building.

You can make a contribution to help the vendors at the Capitol Hill Community Foundation's website. There's also a new blog,, that will keep track of the restoration, and the DC Government has set up a Restoring Eastern Market site as well.


T said...

Yes--me too, on all counts. I still have a shirt I bought there for $4 one of the first times I went with Tina. But judging from the saveeasternmarket blog, it looks like the cleanup is happening apace.

One thing that strikes me is how the fire--like the market itself--seems to have rallied a certain stripe of DC resident...people who are not transient, who have been around long enough to care--and the whole thing goes a long way to belie the image of Washington as a place that lacks community stability because of its wax and wane of presidential administrations, etc.

I saw a headline on saveeasternmarket that was calling for EM to privatize--is this a general sentiment down there? (Oh, boy--if it goes private, maybe they'll put a Gap in! Errrrrgh.)

An Briosca Mor said...

Having lived here pretty much all of my life, I'm ashamed to admit that I've only been to Eastern Market once - and that was for a Cajun dance, actually. The curse of living in the 'burbs because the job is in the even further-out 'burbs. Even though I get into the city fairly often, it's usually not during normal business hours, alas. Once the market re-opens I will have to make an effort to get there.

Privatizing EM would probably be like privatizing Glen Echo was, which ended up being kind of a part-government-part-private-foundation deal. The DC govt would never be able to pull off just selling the property to a developer. There would be too much community opposition, just like at Glen Echo (which had a much smaller neighborhood base, actually). The public-private thing at GE seems to be working out, except that the Irish set dancing in the ballroom did get squeezed out recently.

T said...

What, no more Glen Echo ceili?? That sucks!

Rob said...

Yeah, if they turn the place into a food court with a Starbuck's and a McDonald's, we might as well burn it down again.

Fortunately those in power seem to recognize EM's value as a cultural and comunity resource. I really don't see privatization happening. Cross fingers, touch wood.

An Briosca Mor said...

Yeah, Tina, Matt et al played for the last Wed night Glen Echo ceili a month or so ago. Although I don't know the full story, I'm thinking that what happened is that GE told Jim Keenan or whoever was running the dance classes that they weren't drawing enough people to justify holding them in the vast expanses of the ballroom. Either that or they jacked up the rent to a level that can't be supported by a small enrollment, which would kind of be the same thing I suppose. They may have offered to let them continue the classes in one of the smaller spaces at the park, like the Dance Studio or whatever they call that little hovel behind the Bumper Car Pavilion. But what would be the difference between taht and the Frost Center on Thursdays? It will be interesting to see what they're having in the ballroom on Wed nights in the new class catalog. My bet will be nothing, unless maybe there's some other dance group with a larger base that can afford to move into that slot. It doesn't seem like prime time for ad hoc rentals for wedding receptions, corporate events, etc, which I think they're trying to get going at the park, does it?

As for privatizing EM, since it's an historic building the options are limited, I'm sure. Some developer could propose doing something like Quincy Market in Boston, which is a tourist trap for sure but not all bad. But I think Capitol Hill is too much of a residential neighborhood for that kind of thing to be realistic.

T said...

That's altogether too bad about Glen Echo...but keep me posted on what they have on Wednesdays, just out of curiosity.

And yes, I can't picture the majority of DC tourists even *considering* going to Eastern Market. It's not air-conditioned :-)

sara said...

I didn't know about the fire! My mother first took me to Eastern Market and I remember following her around buying vegetables. I learned to swim at a pool nearby there. I have a vivid sonic memory about the way it felt to go from the fresh outdoors to the loud, clashy indoors. We bough a Christmas tree there once. I bought my first chef's knife there for $20 and it served me well for many years. Oh what a shame. EM is one of my favorite things about DC. Tes is right about the kind of DC resident that cares about EM. May it prevail in all its former glory.

Rob said...

I went down there on Saturday. The farmer's market and outdoor stuff were all cranking along in full force. A couple of the displaced indoor vendors had moved their operations outside as well. The DCFD had opened one of the doors of the building so you could go and peer over a barrier at the inside. People were lining up to have a look.

At first glance, it's horrible. You can see from the pic on my main post: most of the windows have been smashed and boarded up, all the familiar glass cases and signs and equipment looks trashed. All that debris on the floor in the picture was the roof. But apart from all the smoke and soot the actual brick-and-mortar building looks sound. As bad as the fire was, Fenty's promise to have the market up and running again in 18-24 months seems more than reasonable, even conservative. I just hope the businesses there can stay afloat long enough to move back in.

Someone over on quoted one of the outdoor vendors saying "we'll be fine. Just keep coming." I plan to.