The Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) met virtually on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. Most items on the agenda were matters raised at previous meetings, with little new under consideration.
EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder asked Margeson when the Department of General Services (DGS) planned to respond to EMCAC as far as implementation of the $300,000 Strategic plan whose funding was secured by the efforts of Council member Charles Allen.
The Strategic Plan was drafted at the urging of EMCAC to help shape a future market and address how the Market might face today’s more challenging business climate while balancing what is called the “market experience.”
Eastern Market Manager Barry Margeson resisted committing to a specific date but reassured members of EMCAC that a meeting was forthcoming. He said that DGS and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development (DMPED), which managed the grant process, were still “hashing it out.”
Margeson reminded EMCAC members that the Strategic Plan is “an external party created document. It was approved as a plan, but not all of the individual elements had been signed off on.”
Nichole Opkins, speaking on behalf of Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D), assured EMCAC that “this is not going to be a strategic plan that gets put on the shelf.”
The Strategic Plan can be read at www.easternmarketplan.org. It concludes with twelve recommendations supported by 52 actionable strategies.
Scheeder next asked about the FY22 budget. EMCAC, an advisory body, has fought hard to be included in the yearly budget process and Scheeder asked where EMCAC fit in the current scheduling and negotiating dynamic.
Margeson stated that the budget was currently in in the hands of the executive branch but reassured EMCAC that the organization remains a key part of the budget input.
Safety at the Market
Representing outside arts and craft vendors, Tenant’s Council President Anita Jefferson was almost plaintive in her call for more security. “We are just out there and have to fend for ourselves,“ she said, indicating the day-to-day problems of managing a large public market. Since Jan. 6, that also includes a new dimension of domestic threats.
“We deserve more,” Jefferson said. “It is not acceptable to have no security on weekends.”
The District government has significantly diminished its security presence at the Market. Previously, this service was provided by the DGS Protective Services Division (PSD) which stationed full-time officers on weekends.
According to Jefferson, there are looming and unaddressed security and management issues that are disrupting morning setup and breakdown at the end of the Market day, among other things.
There was a brief discussion of the impact on business of the temporarily extended holiday closing hours of 7 p.m. Operating hours under the COVID restrictions are 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily. The market is closed Monday.
EMCAC member Susan Oursler asked Margeson to survey both the merchants and the customers as to how these newly restrictive hours are impacting business. Margeson agreed to take the temperature on the impact of changed hours but did offer that eight merchants support the previously extended hours, with four preferring closing early at 5 p.m.
Chair Donna Scheeder pointed out that although Market customers might well be working at home remotely, that they cannot “necessarily pop over to the Market in the middle of the day.”
Scheeder added that EMCAC worked very hard in the past to increase Market hours and that they are “very popular” with customers, adding that she considered “this as a step back.“
In his Market Manager’s Report, Barry Margeson addressed the current financial state of the Market. He said that revenue for Q1 was $132,565, down 47 percent from a projected $282,000. Revenue for the two previous quarters came in at $30,678 and $107,376 respectively, in part due to a precipitous drop in revenue from event bookings in the North Hall.
The Market is likely losing money at a pace similar to a decade ago, when revenue collected from the North Hall was not captured. It has since been part of the Market’s Enterprise Fund.
The FY20 statement is certain to reflect the existing financial challenges.
According to Margeson, the lease with Canales Deli, which changed management in February, has now been complete. However, all other leases are on hold. The South Hall merchants have been without leases for the past two decades.
The next virtual EMCAC meeting is on Feb 24 at 7 p.m. For information on how you can participate virtually, contact Charles Burger at [email protected]
Peter J. Waldron is a long time Hill resident and a former Chair of ANC6B and has been reporting on the Eastern Market for thirteen years. Waldron can be reached at [email protected].