The purpose of the $300,000 funding for a proposed strategic business plan for Eastern Market, adopted as a result of the efforts of Councilmember Charles Allen, is not in the pipeline to save Eastern Market, as has been suggested.
Rather, the funding has been appropriated to find a pathway amidst fierce competition from the multiple grocery options available on the Hill, as well as the explosive rise of online shopping, pickup and delivery.
The $300,000 grant is being administered and monitored by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED).
A major challenge for the plan will be to balance the ‘Market experience’ while addressing the speed and convenience demanded by millennials who have grown used to the now tidal-wave reach of Amazon and other online services.
Online ordering in the restaurant industry is an example of this growth. According to a study published in QSR magazine, online sales will be three times in-restaurant sales between now and 2023.
These challenges are part of a new business climate that the Market faces, even as the Market is still grappling with how it manages parking and its impact on shopping, as it has for more than a decade.
The strategic plan update and discussion was led by project manager Scott Betz of Hill-based grant recipient Architrave PC at the January 22nd meeting of the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC).
Betz focused on a survey that Architrave is conducting in an effort to reach out to the Hill community and to gather information about how and in what way the community sees and uses the Eastern Market.
In addition, Betz pointed out that Architrave has reached out to four public markets and is conducting an operational analysis of the Market which includes taking a look at ‘ten years of financials’. Betz noted that the strategic plan recommendations will be ‘guided by other markets’.
EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder asked how survey questions were formulated. Betz said that they were drawn from ‘issues that people were talking about’ as well as questions ‘along the lines of consumer behavior’.
Vice-Chair Chuck Burger expressed concern ‘about reaching people who do not shop at the Market’ to get some idea of their reasons.
Take the survey online today.
Market Manager’s Report
Department of General Services (DGS) Eastern Market Manager Barry Margeson reported that Market revenue for the first quarter of the fiscal year (FY20) is down 11 percent from last year’s $260,222 (FY19) with elevated concerns about North Hall revenues. Bookings in the North Hall brought $33,108 in December 2018, were but fell to a pitiable $3,908 this past holiday season.
Arts and craft vending revenues, generally strong during the holidays, totaled $22,222. That’s also down from the $33,000 recorded the previous December. Margeson suggested that this was due to the many holiday markets that are now in existence.
The deadline has passed for DGS to receive a counter-lease appraisal proposal from South Hall Merchants. The merchants had proposed they submit their own assessment in an effort to resolve the long standing lease issue. Margeson reported that all but two of the thirteen businesses have provided an appraisal. According to Margeson, three of the merchants have committed to open their books but they have yet to do so.
Margeson stated that the leases being offered are for ten-year terms plus a five-year option. Fourteen leases are under discussion. Two of the Market businesses have been sold in the past few years, meaning their leases have recently been negotiated.
Asked if he anticipated the selling of more businesses, once these new leases are secured, Margeson responded: “It is very possible. Yes.”
The parking situation at the Market remains unchanged according to Margeson. “We are ongoing with Colonial,” he said, implying that the relationship continues with the Colonial Parking surface lot near Seventh and C Streets SE, steps from the Market.
Market management secured parking for its South Hall tenant customers there months ago and put in place a validated parking program that pays for part of the cost of parking at the Colonial lot for customers. Though the South Hall merchants have repeatedly demanded more parking, saying the lack of it is a threat to the very existence of their businesses, they have yet to fully embrace the new plan.
Burger asked if the validated parking program is now ‘DOA’. Margeson reiterated the validated parking program still exists, saying that it might still catch on.
A long-time Capitol Hill resident and former Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, Peter J. Waldron has been writing for the Hill Rag for more than fifteen years. For the past 13, he has written a monthly column on Eastern Market. Reach him at [email protected]