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Eastern Market: What We've Lost

As it happens, I spent an afternoon this weekend at Eastern Market, and now that it is gone--surely to be rebuilt, but nonetheless a charred, tangled scar in the city's center--it's painful to realize just how important a spot like this really is.

If you've never been, you've missed out on what is all too often presumed to be lacking about Washington, because Eastern Market, which burned early this morning, was not just a collection of produce and meat stands in a 130-year-old brick building on Capitol Hill. The Market was more than the assemblage of craftsmen, artists and jewelers who gathered under white umbrellas on the sidewalks surrounding the building. And the Market was not just one more sprawling flea market selling furniture, old record albums and novelties in a schoolyard.

Eastern Market was what people talk about when they get all misty about the possibilities of a city. It was a place where people came not merely to gather necessities or shop for frills, but rather a place where people came to see and be among each other. I don't live on the Hill. I don't even live within 20 minutes of the Hill. But my family and I try to get over to Eastern Market regularly because we know for a certainty that we will run into people we know, that we will meet folks who will enrich our lives, and that we will feel as if we are part of something less random than a walk through downtown or a visit to a suburban shopping center.

The Hill residents who live nearby and stop in at the Market each morning or afternoon to buy meat, cheese, bread or produce, or the people who make it a habit to buy a salmon cake or crab cake from Market Lunch on the way to work are, along with the merchants, the heart of Eastern Market. This was the kind of gathering spot that many city neighborhoods once had. After the collapse of the O Street Market in Shaw and the conversion of a similar facility in Georgetown into a very upscale gourmet shop, Eastern Market was all we had left. It became, all at once, a neighborhood marketplace, a symbol of what the District could be for people of all races and economic levels, and a draw for tourists and visitors.

Michael Berman, an artist who sells his paintings of, among other things, Capitol Hill rowhouses at a stall outside the Market, has become the pied piper of D.C. street fairs. He launched the art fair on the grounds of the old Convention Center and he's also started a very successful street art and crafts fair on the street outside the American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery downtown. But his base remains Eastern Market because while those other locations draw tourists and office workers, Eastern Market has a different feel, a stability and permanence based on its historic purpose--to provide people who live nearby with the necessities of daily life. I saw Berman at Eastern this weekend and he introduced me to an artist who sells cufflinks made from old cigar labels. I don't wear cufflinks, and the three of us talked about the decline of formalwear, and then we moved on. Yet it was more than a passing chat--because I show up there from time to time, and because I know Michael, I knew I'd be back, and there was a comfort in that.

All nostalgia aside, we have lost too many places that serve this purpose, this grounding, this commons on which we know we will meet others who are part of our city, bit characters in our lives. There's a lot of talk about how this society becomes ever more anonymous, about how technology brings us together in its own remote, faceless version of intimacy, leaving us ever more alone at our keyboards. Eastern Market was--and will again be--an antidote to that alienating force.

The O Street Marketplace has been a shell for far too many years. The loss of the Central Market downtown is a big part of what consigned the District's center to decades of drift. The city should move quickly to get Eastern rebuilt and to help the merchants, many of whose businesses have been passed on through the generations inside that brick building, survive until they can resume their work.

And the marketplace that surrounds Eastern Market each weekend should continue every week, starting this Saturday.

By Marc Fisher |  April 30, 2007; 8:13 AM ET
Previous: Time for a D.C. Congestion Tax? | Next: Eastern Market: Two Families Lose A Home


Please email us to report offensive comments.

When other people talk like this about an old brick building, Marc immediately labels them NIMBYs. Tradition and preservation are not dirty words.

Posted by: crc | April 30, 2007 8:57 AM

The O Street Market is likely to be rebuilt within the next two years. The idea is to modernize the Giant there and to restore the old market so that people can do regular grocery shopping and Eastern Market style shopping at the same time, and it will become more of a neighborhood meeting place. I hope it happens.

Very sad about Eastern Market.

Posted by: Brian | April 30, 2007 9:06 AM

When we were relocating to Washington, D.C., eight years ago, our very savvy Realtor urged us to eat Sunday brunch at Eastern Market. We did and fell in love with the place and the "village" of Capitol Hill. It was heartbreaking to see the charred market this morning, but even more heartbreaking to see some of the vendors gazing at the devastation. Eastern Market must be rebuilt.

Posted by: KBM | April 30, 2007 9:10 AM

My heart is broken! Eastern Market is the soul of our community. I feel like I've lost a friend.

Posted by: Karen on Capitol Hill | April 30, 2007 9:16 AM

So sad. For all the annoyance that some have felt the Capitol Hill Historic Preservation Society has thrust upon home owners when doing renovations (ie - making you get wooden windows, etc) it is time for them to really earn their money (so to speak) and insist that Eastern Market be rebuilt to essentially replicate what was just lost. God forbid we have some mockery of the now former market by putting in corporate garbage like a Quiznos or Starbucks or some other hack business. Cannot wait until it is rebuilt!

Posted by: Ryan | April 30, 2007 9:16 AM

I was astounded to hear the news this morning that Eastern Market had burned down. It is one of my favorite spots in DC and I was just there yesterday. It is a treasure that brings me in from the suburbs on sunny weekends to take in the best of Washington. It must be rebuilt!

Posted by: CVA | April 30, 2007 9:18 AM

When it's rebuilt, hopefully they'll be able to put in fire sprinklers...

Posted by: WDC | April 30, 2007 9:20 AM

Mark, I agree. But if all involved had not been haggling over the last 20 years or so about how to renovate Eastern Market, and went ahead and put in modern systems, this fire might not have occurred. I think this was an electrical fire. There was a lot of ancient and worn wiring that needed to be replaced.

Posted by: Karl | April 30, 2007 9:25 AM

hope they make the new eastern market more wheelchair accessable-- put a bathroom on first floor.

I am so worried about the vendors! where will they go? Fresh pasta and Jack's delicious cheese and Mr. canales freindly smile and delicious deli foods. What can we do?

Posted by: Eastern Market Mom | April 30, 2007 9:27 AM

This morning I saw the Post's story and yelled to my partner that the market had burned. He was as horrified as I was.

As Mr. Fisher writes, the market was the community center. Not just the place where I bought my cold cuts yesterday for this week's lunches, but the only place in this area that reminds me of the best of European markets: places where the daily business of life happens year in and year out.

The market wasn't just a place for commerce. It was a setting for so much of what gives life pleasure--the opportunity to meet other people, to share a beautiful sunny Sunday, to realize how lucky you are to live in such a community. Looking at the faces of neighbors standing watch over the market's remains only underscored the central role that the market has played in this community. For generation after generation . . . .

As of 8:00 this morning, the outside walls were still standing. Perhaps the market will rise from the ashes. And, if so, let's hope that the rebuilders include a fire-suppression system.

Posted by: T | April 30, 2007 9:28 AM

This disturbed me more than any of 9/11, John Mohammed, or the Virginia Tech shootings. I'm hoping that the owner (the District) kept up with the insurance, and that it doesn't get replaced with sterile, identical-looking stalls inside, or worse, some food court of franchise. The vendors of Eastern Market have a connection to the products b/c it is their life. And my life.

Posted by: dcsween | April 30, 2007 9:32 AM

This is so, so sad. I almost went there Saturday for some mozzarella cheese and bread and pesto, but passed on it. Little did we know... I heard the news this morning and my wife and I were stunned.

Eastern Market is one of the things that gives D.C. its identity: shop, people-watch, greet friends, nosh on fruit and produce samples, get some flowers or crabcakes and check out the arts and crafts.

I only hope the city and other parties don't take 20 more years haggling to get this spot rebuilt.

Posted by: dirrtysw | April 30, 2007 9:37 AM

I lived at Eastern Market for 5 years, and Marc is right, it's not just a place to go shopping. It's a personal experience and a real community. My heart went straight to the Calomiris family that has operated a green grocer in the market for who knows how long and Jack at Bowers cheese.

These are good, hard working people who made shopping for food a community connecting experience. For most people food shopping is an inconvenience, people like the ones who run markets at Eastern Market made it something more connecting.

I'll miss seeing them even more than shopping there.

Posted by: CarlenLea | April 30, 2007 9:38 AM

My family has lived on the Hill for 15 years and we never miss a weekend at the Market. Every trip takes twice as long as it should because of the friends and neighbors that we bump into. When I rode by this morning taking the kids to school, my heart broke. I hope that the city finds a way to ensure that the Calomirises, Canales, Inmans, and all the other vendors survive this and return to a new and improved Market.

Posted by: jss | April 30, 2007 9:39 AM

The Capitol Hill community has many great institutions that the world comes to visit. The world also comes to see(and shop)the Eastern Market.This great heart of our community is a bit ragged this beautiful April morning but as we watched her burn at 2AM many of us said one thing:at least the decades-long fight to renovate the Market is finally over.Rebuild Eastern Market NOW!

Posted by: Mac | April 30, 2007 9:41 AM

Wow. This is more sad than 3,000 people being murdered?

Posted by: Arlington, VA | April 30, 2007 9:45 AM

Putting this fire on the same level, or even in the same ballpark, as 9/11 or even the most recent VT shootings is outrageous...please, dcsween, tell us this was a "botched joke," an Imus moment, or that you have re-examined your thoughts.

Posted by: DC Fan | April 30, 2007 9:52 AM

It's hard to say at this point but it's a decent presumption that the decades of studies, bickering, and dithering instead of actual renovation of Eastern Market at least contributed to the severity of the fire. That's what makes it even sadder. Let's hope the city gets off their butts and approves rebuilding ASAP. But given their track record I hate to say I'm not overly optimistic.

Posted by: Hillman | April 30, 2007 9:54 AM

dcsween must have thought that Eastern MOTORS burned down. This is just some vegetables, dude.

Posted by: SMACK | April 30, 2007 9:58 AM

To my surprise, I started crying when I read Mr. Fisher's column. I too go a little farther than the closest Safeway to go to Eastern Market when I need food because Eastern Market celebrates community. How right he is that Eastern Market is more than a place to buy food. It's also place for communing with our fellows, for being entertained, and for sharing the wonderful mundanity of life. And yes, far too many architects ignore those aspects when they design yet another soul-numbing, revenue-maximizing, sterile box. Let this fire be a sacrifice that awakens our architects to the reality that the city is the gathering spot and that peoples spirits, rather than cars and buildings, should be what their designs serve.

Posted by: jim | April 30, 2007 10:04 AM

Rebuild the market!

In the meantime, I truly hope that exterior of the Market will remain open.

To create more space for vendors, perhaps the DC municipal government should consider blocking off 7th Street on Saturday and Sunday mornings/afternoons.

Turn the street into a pedestrian only zone, allowing vendors set up in the street.

Posted by: DerbyHouse | April 30, 2007 10:13 AM

As a former Hill resident of many years, Eastern Market has always held a special place in my heart. Every time we talk about moving back, it was because what we missed most was being able to walk to the Market on weekends.

This is a devestating loss to the soul of a neighborhood and many, many people. We must remain vigilant in pressuring the DC leadership to rebuild immediately.

I look forward to the day soon when I'll be able to go back to the Market and be greeted by the smell of fresh flowers, smiles from the poultry vendors, and the offering of a slice of delicious cheese.

Posted by: JL | April 30, 2007 10:15 AM

I have lived two blocks from Eastern Market for 14 years -- we bought our house because of its location -- because we live near the soul of the hill. i spend two hours there every weekend. i feel as if i have lost a close family member. i feel as empty and devestated as the shell of the building.
just to correct a comment -- it was not an electrical fire. Seems that it started in a dumpster, with facts (i.e., another dumpster fire nearby on the hill) that suggest arson in the dumpster.
no cute fanueil hall please. we need to bring back our eastern market -- but perhaps with a better bathroom, sprinklers, oh, and maybe air conditioning for the fixtures of our community who serve us and cement us behind those counters. Heartfelt feelings to all the shopkeepers and to all of us.
Eastern Market -- the Phoenix!

Posted by: leslie | April 30, 2007 10:19 AM

SMACK - you're awesome!

Posted by: allthat | April 30, 2007 10:19 AM

Ironically (or perhaps not) complete renovation plans for the market have been sitting on the shelf, as the city dithered and delayed and as various neighborhood interests mulled over this or that issue. Since the roof structure of the market is unprotected steel, the plans would absolutely have had to include automatic fire suppression. This fire would absolutely not have happened if the city (and various "players" involved) had gotten off their collective duffs. And now the Mayor promises a rapid rebuilding. We shall see. Given the physical state of our neighborhood schools, the old naval hospital, the SE and NE libraries, etc., I won't be holding my breath. The city's stewardship of its physical assets is nothing short of appalling.

Posted by: P | April 30, 2007 10:20 AM

Man...what a way to start a Monday.

Spring is my favorite time of the year there too...

Posted by: shocked dad | April 30, 2007 10:24 AM

Eastern Market was the best thing about living in DC, period.

Posted by: Frank | April 30, 2007 10:27 AM

What Frank said.

Posted by: Silver Spring. | April 30, 2007 10:32 AM

dcsween seems to be indicating that the Eastern Market fire affects him more than some other tragedies, which isn't surprising given that it's local. The extent to which something affects you should be directly proportional to its distance from you. He was NOT saying that the other event weren't tragedies in their own right, just that they didn't affect him as much.

I don't see why so many fail to understand something so simple and instead jump up to see who can be more pathetically 'shocked' by such insensitivity.

Posted by: JS | April 30, 2007 10:39 AM

I grew up on the Hill and was one of the many Hill kids who worked for vendors on weekends, and who knew that Mr. Inman or the Calomirises would know exactly what our mothers wanted when they sent us for a fryer or a nice head of Boston lettuce. I loved watching the Canales' operation grow when I was home on college breaks, from one deli stand to include groceries and frankly, still the best rotisserie chickens I know.

All grown up and careered, I moved away from DC a couple of years ago, but I still go back to say hello when I'm there, and Mrs. C still slips me a banana or a tangerine.

It's true that the neighborhood, city and vendors have been wrangling over a renewal plan. I hope this tragedy brings them together to commit to an agreement, one that will protect these special small businesses.

Posted by: DCtoNC | April 30, 2007 10:41 AM

Well said, JS. I'd bet the "why do you hate freedom?" types expressing outrage here were more affected by 9/11 than, let's say, the Rwandan genocide or an earthquake in Iran.

Posted by: ST | April 30, 2007 10:46 AM

Might be too early to start discussing ways to improve the rebuilt Eastern Market, but one of the things that has always struck me about the offerings inside the building is the lack of emphasis on local/regional food, particularly by the produce vendors. Having been to other public markets, such as the amazing public market in Portland, Maine, I'd love to see the new EM be even MORE focused on celebrating the offerings of the DC area and its farmers by committing to supporting locally grown/produced food. That said, EM can't be rebuilt soon enough.

Posted by: East Capitol Street | April 30, 2007 10:50 AM

This is a tragedy, we must rebuild the Market. I was there only yesterday basking in the sun, picking up some fresh sausage and some flowers. I still can;t believe this happened. I can pound nails and usually spend a lot of my weekend time at the Market so I am ready to begin the rehab this weekend.

Posted by: Will | April 30, 2007 10:58 AM

My son and his family live across the street form the market. Every time we visit him we always go to the market. I love cheese and wil miss picking up some favorite to bring home. I am very sadden by the lose and hope that the city and the governments involved work hard at restoring the market to its wonderful past.

Posted by: ed | April 30, 2007 10:59 AM

At Eastern Market ... your job's your credit ...

Posted by: L. Arrington | April 30, 2007 10:59 AM

I've been living in the neighborhood for two years. When I saw it, I couldn't walk any further and simply cried for a while. If you haven't spent weekend after weekend watching your entire neighborhood gathering around one spot and enjoying life together, you simply couldn't undertstand the heartbreak.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2007 11:00 AM

I do not live in DC but have a son and his family that live on the Hill. My daughter-in-law called this morning to tell us the sad news about Eastern Market. It was such a fun place to visit when in DC. I especially remember the cheese man.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2007 11:00 AM

I can't believe the market suffered so much damage last night. The article about it mentions that the firefighters didn't go inside the building to fight the fire. Is that normal??? They said they were afraid it would collapse, but are they always afraid of that? Construction 150 years ago was a lot better than most construction today. I'm sure if that had been some characterless office building downtown they would have gone inside to fight the fire. I am shocked and very upset about the damage. Apparently the building is owned by DC. Hopefully they can get their act together to repair it QUICKLY!!! As this blog post so eloquently puts it, this market is one of the few truely public spaces left in the city. We need it.

Posted by: HillResident | April 30, 2007 11:04 AM

As a three year resident of the area, 300 feet away, I am devastated by this. It is most difficult when plans and funds have been available to update the market for 5 years, including fire alarm and sprinkler systems, but they have been delayed by preservation and business interests.
It is time to realize that old structures must be updated to be saved. This is a harsh lesson.

On another note, there was a dumpster fire in the wee hours of a Monday 4-6 weeks ago behind 600 Pennsylvania, SE on C St. The Eastern Market is at the end of that block. In addition, graffitti (AMMO) first appeared on the doors of the Eastern Market about 3-4 weeks ago. Perhaps these events should also be considered during the investigation of this fire.

Posted by: Vernon | April 30, 2007 11:04 AM

I was there yesterday too, and I happened to have taken some pictures of the people, the food--the scene that we all cherish so much. It's not much, but they're here:

Posted by: Rachel | April 30, 2007 11:08 AM

What will happen to the vendors in the meantime? How will they make a living? Are there any plans to set up a fund for them?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2007 11:16 AM

I know the city owns the building, and will therefore be responsible for the majority of costs, but has there been any thought to setting up a fund to accept donations to help rebuild? or to help the vendors who have been temporarily (we hope) displaced?

Posted by: HFML | April 30, 2007 11:18 AM

nothing I can add to what's already been said other than Eastern Mkt is one of the few places we always try to take out-of-town visitors so they can see the real DC. I'm heartbroken.

Posted by: eo mcmars | April 30, 2007 11:20 AM

"They don't build it like they used to" is one of the worst canards around. Building codes have made buildings much safer for occupants and have all but eliminated catastrophic fires like this, through mandatory use of automatic sprinklers. Most of the fire was in the roof area, sheathing and whatnot. Below that the roof structure is unprotected steel, subject to collapse when subjected to heat. It makes absolute sense to fight a fire like that from the top down. Of course, I'll repeat, if the building were equipped with sprinklers it would be open in a couple of weeks, once the water damage was repaired. Mark my words, the Market will be closed for a long, long time. This is the same outfit that can't clean up after minor snowstorms. The city has not spent a dime on the market buildings in years (while charging rent, naturally) and it shows (or showed....)

Posted by: P | April 30, 2007 11:26 AM

DerbyHouse is on the right track, but doesn't go far enough. Those vendors operate all week, and need the business to stay in business, plus the refidgeration needs aren't easily movable. Shut down that block of 7th street semi-permanently, to allow temporary buildings on the street. The only significant complication is parking for the outside vendors. During the repairs, consider making the area into a permanent plaza.

Posted by: tebewebb | April 30, 2007 11:28 AM

Well said, JS. People feel a real connection to Eastern Market and it's understandable that they feel a sense of personal loss in a way that few of us, thankfully, did after 9/11 or the other tragedies. DC Fan and Arlington, can we please save the smug judgmentalism for, say, Tuesday afternoon?

Posted by: JV | April 30, 2007 11:30 AM

Those that don't understand the tragedy of the fire have obviously never been to the Eastern Market. They wouldn't understand if they had never bought flowers from Carlton, chocolate milk from Jack or Mike, a standing rib roast from Roy, or chicken breasts split by Melvin! Mercifully, no one was injured or killed in the fire. That is what made this less devastating than some of the other tragedies mentioned.

Posted by: Dick | April 30, 2007 11:33 AM

Hillresident: yes, it is normal for firefighters to withdraw from a non-occupied structure if there is concern about collapse. Such a collapse could kill many firefighters at once (indeed, collapses at structure fires have done so too many times in the past) and it is not worth even one firefighter's life to save a mere structure, which can be rebuilt. An exterior attack may not save the structure, but it can save firefighters' lives.

Posted by: PJ Geraghty | April 30, 2007 11:38 AM

This morning I ate the strawberries I bought at the market, totally unaware of its destruction until the hourly NPR news.
I cannot imagine life on the Hill without the market; it is the soul of the neighborhood and one of the attractions of the District--both for residents and tourists. I can't imagine life without the market. Tell us how we may help to bring it back. And when it is renovated, please put in air-conditioning /heatingfor the vendors, whose loyalty and friendly service deserve a liveable environment.

Posted by: jo | April 30, 2007 11:38 AM

I feel utterly bereft. I know the building itself can be rebuilt but my heart aches for the vendors we've all grown to know and love- Market Lunch, Mr. Melvin, the guys at Canales, the bakery... I pray everyone will be back to business sooner than later.

Posted by: plamar1031 | April 30, 2007 11:39 AM

This is sad indeed....the Eastern Market was one of the silent, majestic pillars of Capital Hill. With all the changes being made to "improve" DC and run out the blue collar worker - the average-common man - and allow only the high income rich take over...well that is a real social injustice -- and it changes the culture and character of DC. THE EASTERN MARKET was always like visiting an welcoming old friend - there was no class distinction at the market. I loved chatting with the vendors - they are down-to-earth neat people.
Now, I hope that the O Street Market really does get renovated with an old world atmosphere. But the Giant store is in really sad shape, in need of MAJOR improvements - including the attitude of management who have long abandoned it and consider it an after thought.

Posted by: Mildred L. | April 30, 2007 11:39 AM

Re: HillResident's comment on the firefighters. The rule is safety first, so it would be typical for firemen not to enter the building unless there were people inside. Please note what happened several weeks ago in Prince William County where a fireman was killed in the line of duty when a building collapsed.

Posted by: dc | April 30, 2007 11:54 AM

DerbyHouse had the same idea I have been mulling over since 3:30 in the morning, when I woke up to an amazing amount of fire trucks outside of my house. The roof on the southern end was literally glowing red.

I too am deeply saddened, but I keep it in perspective. What burned was a building and what is seemingly lost is a sense of home. People were not hurt, violent or otherwise, and for that I am grateful. This is a tragedy that can be solved, unlike so many others in the world at the moment.

7th street is a seldom-used street, relative to others in the city. Locals often avoid driving down it because of the tight quarters and odd access to neighboring streets. As structural concerns may keep vendors away from the green awning, the roadway of 7th street is a fine location for temporarily relocating the interior vendors for seven days a week commerce, until the building can be rebuilt.

Detroit's own Eastern Market (easternmarket dot org) hosts a large amount of vendors that sell meats, cheeses, veggies, etc. in an outdoor setting.

Put on your thinking caps and imagine 7th street closed for a year during renovation. Tall tall white tents with a solid aluminum frames line 7th and C street to 7th and North Carolina. All the interior vendors that we all love have a semi-permanent setups under those tents, possibly with refrigeration trucks or units to back them up. We are after all dealing with meats and cheeses. Maybe even supplementary refrigeration units are placed inside the market 5 gallery from where we often hear dance lessons going on Thursday nights.

Across from the Eastern Market building the city allows the weekend outside vendors special permission to setup very gingerly around Tunnicliffs, Petite Gourmet, and Port City. The area outside of the Market 5 Gallery remains open to outside vendors with some well placed shrubbery to guide peoples attention away from the building and the green awning and direct them into the street.

People have stated that the outdoor vendors should continue on. And as an outdoor vendor I plan to continue if at all possible. However, I realize that the Calomirises, Canales, Inmans, and the rest that comprise the interior of the Eastern Market building are the corner stone of the weekend's festivities. Without them we are salesman outside of a burnt building. And for the weekend outside vendors to survive the neighborhood needs to feel that the whole of the market will continue.

This is just one idea, but it is a start to a solution that should include all the people we love to see each weekend. I don't want to go a year without Jack's cheese or a crab cake sandwich!

To all those reading this blog, if you know someone that can help please play the six degrees of separation game to get our wishes and ideas known to the mayor.

Posted by: JonWye | April 30, 2007 12:00 PM

I've lived on the Hill for seven years now, and have brought every visitor to Eastern Market. Just this weekend it was my parents, who are visiting from Germany. They loved it and are just as shocked as I am. I am usually not a sentimental person, but it really does feel like a big loss. Sadly, it will be difficult to have that old world feeling in a newly built space.

Posted by: cpwdc | April 30, 2007 12:03 PM

I moved to the Eastern Market area one year ago just to be close to the market and the community that surrounds it. When I walked by the charred building this morning on my way to work, the loss I felt was profound. I know it won't come back the way it's been, but I too hope that the new market will be true to it's history and the people of the community. What made it so special was the individual character of each vendor...please, no chain stores or fancy digs.

Posted by: Rachel (Capitol Hill) | April 30, 2007 12:11 PM

Oh my God I have cried and cried since I heard of the Eastern Market fire. It truly breaks my heart.

I am thankful to see some very thoughtful comments here, which give me hope that we will bring Eastern Market back better than ever, and we must surely make it a top priority to keep the Calomirises, Canales, Inmans, etc. going.

Posted by: DupontCircleGuy | April 30, 2007 12:16 PM

Eastern Market has represented real opportunity for the youth that Covenant House Serves. The weekend market managements have welcomed our young woodworkers with open arms, and have been a bridge between the hardest neighborhoods and opportunities to legitimately sell beautiful wares to customers from around the area and across the world. After speaking with the youth this morning, their first question was - "Are the other business owners going to be OK?" They understand the importance of EM to hundreds of small business owners - resident and non resident - and are committed to lending a hand wherever they can. As a Hill resident, I am confident that the spirit of the market and the hopes of all who believe in the market families will be uplifted by this weekend's upcoming market day celebration!

Posted by: Matt Barinholtz, Covenant House Washington | April 30, 2007 12:36 PM

I attend the University of Maryland and have always wanted to go to the Eastern Market. Finally, this past weekend I convinced my girlfriend and her friend to go to the Market to get food for dinner. Saturday night was one of the best dinners I've had in a really long time. It was due to the fresh vegetables, tabouleh, stuffed grape leaves and desserts we purchased at the Market. Strange that my first time would be my last for a while. It must be rebuilt.

Posted by: Dan | April 30, 2007 12:39 PM

Union Station is a gathering place also. It is also bigger and cleaner than Eastern Market.

Posted by: Bruce | April 30, 2007 12:47 PM

when i first moved to dc, i lived on 8th, across the street from the market. i was an intern, and i had NO money. i lived off of the cheese samples at the counter and the little slices of tomatoes, then peaches. It would literally be breakfast and lunch. and i loved it. the vendors were on to me, but they didn't seem to mind, they'd slip me a wink and a chunk of brie. years later, we bought our house as close to the market as we could, and I try hard to support the same vendors that supported me - actually buying the cheese now. Any ideas how we can support these wonderful people? where can they set up till the market is running again? can we establish and order system? an assistance fund? here's hoping DC doesn't drag its feet again...

Posted by: former intern | April 30, 2007 12:53 PM

Eastern Market wasn't clean or dirty, it was just Eastern Market. Union Station just doesn't have the same charm unless you are taking a train ride.

Posted by: JonWye | April 30, 2007 12:55 PM

Thanks for your comments. We will continue and we all hope the Market will be rebuilt speedily and that the Marchants, tenants and exhibitors can return to their businesses.

Thank you all for your support. We will be updating our website with information regarding operations at the Market.

Posted by: Mike Berman | April 30, 2007 12:58 PM

"where can they set up till the market is running again?"

- check out some of the above postings... some good ideas are being written here.

Posted by: JonWye | April 30, 2007 12:59 PM

I agree that Eastern Market is the best thing about living in DC. The sense of community you feel each time you walk in to the market-especially as you are waved to and greeted by the various smiling vendors. And I can't imagine going through spring without some blues on Saturday morning.
I hope that the rebuilding begins soon-and that the historic preservation society will be involved in the planning.

Posted by: Debby | April 30, 2007 1:09 PM

I am very saddened by the news. My husband and I came from different parts of the world, but the Eastern Market has really made us feel at home. Yesterday we strolled to the market as we do every Sunday morning, and met a nice young couple with whom we had a lovely time sharing stories about our babies... We bought meet and some vegetables at the Market as usual, and one of the shopkeepers handed my daughter a free banana... These events are not extraordinary, but have become very rare in the modern U.S society. My husband and I have enjoyed immensely the sense of community the Market has given to the residents (we now find shopping at Costco a very "de-humanizing" experience.) We are very sorry for our loss....

Posted by: Naomi (hill resident) | April 30, 2007 1:19 PM

I am in mourning today. The positive is that I spent yesterday at the market, having chance for a last visit that I will never forget.
As a one-time Hill resident, there was a special place in my heart for Eastern Market.

Posted by: Cooper | April 30, 2007 1:26 PM

Eastern Market must be re-built. Capitol Hill would not be the same without it.

Posted by: p (hill resident) | April 30, 2007 1:29 PM

Please call me.

Posted by: RF | April 30, 2007 1:40 PM

I'd like to go there
just to breathe the air
watch the subtleties
a child again at the fair
that it may be gone
leaves me forlorn
but one day our paradise
shall be reborn

Posted by: ayende | April 30, 2007 1:45 PM

How are we going to help the venders and staff wait it out until the market is repaired? I'd like to contribute to a fund to help them during this difficult time.

Posted by: Lisa | April 30, 2007 1:56 PM

I too consider the Eastern Market fire a great loss to the city along with the decimation of the Farmers' Market at RFK and the planned annihilation of the Florida Ave Farmers' Market in Northeast DC.

As a native Washingtonian, I have seen too often our cultural and architectural landmarks succumb to the Developers' onslaught. They are replacing the often hand-fired sturdy brick community centers with pre-fab concrete, plywood and tinted glass homogenous havens of anonymity. "Back in the day", the vendors at the Florida Avenue market would sing out their rhymes about their wares to entice you to take a closer look at their stands. A pre-fab, cookie cutter culture that does not foster the neighborly feeling of "Old DC" cannot replace the brick and mortar, "solid from the ground up" nature of enclosed or open markets. I hope the city administration realizes and acknowledges the need for and significance of our local marketplaces.

Posted by: DC Jasii | April 30, 2007 1:58 PM

When I first moved to DC 6 years ago, I lived in the Eastern Market neighborhood and frequented many times. My hair stylist is still there and so I get regular trips to the market. How VERY sad I was to learn of this tremendous loss to the community, but even more to the business owners who lost their livelihood. I hope they can rebuild and quickly. I also hope that they can find temporary quarters to continue the tradition.

Posted by: LV | April 30, 2007 2:01 PM

I am devastated. Mr. Canales and family, the Inmans, Jack, all the cooks and cashiers at Market Lunch, the bakery...I can hear "Give me a stack of blues with maple" and Mr. Canales smile and warm "Thank you very much and have a wonderful day!". These are endearing people trying to make an honestliving and never getting a negative complaint about customer service...No this was no MacDonald's...bring it back to its magnificient historical building and magical splendor. With all the comments, we should unite and picket the government for the good of the inside and outside vendors. James Smith, Smitty, Carlton, the flower guy, to name only a few who have become my friend, furnished and decorated my home with their wares and all the fruit and vegetable farmers who have fed me so well. A life without yellow watermelons, fresh basil, silver queen, Maryland asparagus, crab cakes, the special cheese with walnuts, salsa, empanadas, gingerbread and pesto so near just breaks my heart when I think of the lives that this fire has engulfed in a few short hours in this Captiol Hill icon. Thanks to the 160 firemen who tried to save this landmark...Now Mayor Fenty, show us your compassion.

Posted by: K (Hill Residence of 20 years) | April 30, 2007 2:04 PM

And now the Georgetown Library is on fire. I think this is suspicious, frankly.

Posted by: John | April 30, 2007 2:17 PM

I agree with East Capitol Street's posting, and am surprised no one else seemed to pick up on the same sentiment. It is absolulely tragic that the market burned down, but to find some sort of silver lining, at least now there's an opportunity to examine what was, and what will be. I love wandering by the market on a warm weekend afternoon, and picking up a few last minute ingredients for dinner. But when I really want to find locally crafted cheese, or truly seasonal produce, I confess that I trek across town to the Dupont Farmer's Market. I have often wished that Eastern Market could introduce more vendors who are farmers/producers, rather than resellers. Our need for a unique (read, not Starbucks)community gathering place won't ever change, but our tastes in food do, and I'd love for our revitalized market to keep up with what I see as a positive evolution in eating habits towards local, sustainably produced, and seasonally appropriate foods. Perhaps the powers that be who will be planning the future of the market could look to the revitalization of the San Francisco Ferry Building and its farmer's market for a road map....

Posted by: market neighbor | April 30, 2007 2:20 PM

As we'll all be reading and hearing about in the days to come, a long chain of victims will suffer from the Eastern Market fire, from the merchants to their employees and on to their suppliers and the vendors who work the outside market and of course the customers.
If you'd like to help with a fund being assembled on behalf of the merchants and their employees, contact the Capitol Hill Community Foundation through their web site:

Posted by: Fisher | April 30, 2007 2:20 PM

what's touching about these comments is how many posters refer to the vendors by name.

when I first visited DC I stumbled across it and knew if I ever lived here this was the neighborhood for me. 7+ years now.

yes, it should have had system upgrades years ago, but let's focus on how it can return and retain the spirit. and we see the same faces behind the counters.

Summer is coming, could they use Hines' gym across the street for temp quarters?

Posted by: r | April 30, 2007 2:38 PM

Capitol Hill residents are leaving a lot of their comments and suggestions at Councilmember Tommy Wells' blog -

There is also information about a fund being created to help displaced Eastern Market vendors.

Posted by: Ward 6 | April 30, 2007 2:42 PM

I moved to Court House last year after 5 years in DC, but I still went to Eastern Market whenever I could. On weekends, I would walk right through the farmer's market at Court House and take the Orange Line to Eastern Market instead. There isn't anything else like it in the area. The people and shopowners were so much friendlier and the sense of soul was palpable. What a loss. I too hope they rebuild quickly but I have little confidence that the DC Government will be able to get it together and make it happen. After all, when all the SE clubs closed to make way for the stadium, the city said they'd help them relocate. Look how far that got.

Posted by: MikeyA | April 30, 2007 2:49 PM

As an expatriate-Brit who owned a house on the Hill for 15 years, this is a tragedy. Please tell me the fire was an accident and not deliberately set. It would be invidious for me to select one of the retailers who enhanced the pleasure of my local shopping and finding all those fresh and wonderful foods one so-seldom sees. To all those who have been dispossessed, I pray you may soon be back in business and that your loyal customers may have pleasure in going "to the Market" once again.

Posted by: Walter | April 30, 2007 2:57 PM

DC is always being invaded by non-natives, an inherenct reality in the political epicenter but Easter Market preserved the DC Spirit. It comes with great sadness and I anxiously await its return.

Posted by: DCee-lo | April 30, 2007 3:07 PM

No sprinklers in Eastern Market, no fire suppression system in the library system (there are non-water ones, you know). What is this city doing with its treasures?

Posted by: ep | April 30, 2007 3:23 PM

Eastern Market IS the Hill. There is nothing better on a summer weekend morning that strolling down to get brunch and then checking out what the local merchants have for sale and meeting up with friends and neighbors. I eagerly await its return.

Posted by: Pennsylvania Avenue | April 30, 2007 3:36 PM

Leslie - I hope that you and your neighbors on the Hill will organize and insure that the city does right by Eastern Market! Developers certainly have their eyes on the site and are, I'm sure, making plans right now to insert something completely at odds with EM's traditions.

Posted by: eastern_branch | April 30, 2007 3:40 PM

To all those of us worried about follow-through, this story has moved off the front page of Channel 7's (ABC) web site.

Will it be nothing but a neighborhood eye sore by tomorrow?

Posted by: Vernon | April 30, 2007 3:58 PM

My eyes are still filled with tears from reading this news.

When I first moved to Northern Virginia 22 years ago, the first weekend, a friend took me to Eastern Market and it was love at first sight. This place demonstrated all the things I loved about city life and I was determined from that day that this was the area that I wanted to live in. It took me 11 years to be able to afford the place I wanted on the Hill but for the past 11 years, Eastern Market has been a part of nearly every spring and summer weekend. It's the center of our urban village. It's where I take people from out of town who marvel at the fact that they never thought of DC as a city with people in it. And it's always the first thing they want to visit on a return trip.

I hope the rebuilding is swift and that we can look forward to our friendly vendors getting some sort of temporary quarters for the meantime.

Posted by: CJW | April 30, 2007 4:03 PM

I'm a history teacher (8th Grade) from Texas and each year I bring a group of middle school students to DC for a week. I plan the trip myself and the thing I looked forward to the most was being in line on Saturday at 7:15 to get breakfast at Market Lunch. I wanted to show a DC you don't see in buildings and museums. I really loved watching my students enjoy that breakfast and interact with the locals who were always so kind to our group (even though it meant waiting a little more for them.) The students liked the markets and buying things besides FBI hoodies for family back home. I'm especially sad for the wonderful vendors I've met and I hope the city will pull together (quickly!!) to rebuild this treasure. I'm not hopeful that it can be rebuilt before we arrive this summer, so if anyone out there has a suggestion for how I can show my students another part of DC on Saturday morning (we travel by subway) where we can get breakfast and see the real side of living in your city I would be honored. When we come in 2008, the powers that be need to have the Market back or shame on them.

Posted by: Steve Foster | April 30, 2007 4:24 PM

In today's age of constant IMing, text messaging, emailing and other technological innovations that put a barrier between people, Eastern Market (for me at least), was one of the last vestiges of a place where you could engage in that yesteryear, person-to-person kind of connection. I'm only 21 so much of my life has been defined by technology. Because of that, I loved going to Eastern Market if only to reaffirm that interactions like haggling with vendors and having friendly conversations with strangers were not totally dead yet. And also, part of what I'll miss is the fact that nearly no could just pass by Eastern Market without browsing through some art, grabbing a crabcake sandwich, touching some beautiful handmade jewelery, smelling some exotic flowers, etc. It was a place that invigorated our various senses, which I think is also on the decline in our lives. I hope it is rebuilt soon.

Posted by: aharvard | April 30, 2007 4:36 PM

For five of the happiest years of my life, I lived near Eastern Market. I watched the children of the vendors grow from helpful little kids to tall and beautiful adults. I bought so many great things over the years, it's so sad to hear of this loss. In all the world, it is and was unique, and no matter how it's rebuilt, what's important is that it IS rebuilt. We'll survive and make it our own again!

Posted by: TimM | April 30, 2007 4:38 PM

This is so sad. Eastern Market represent the tradition and the culture of DC. I hope the District will rebuild it soon. I already miss the Market. I don't know where I will take my wife and kids for fresh meat and produce this weekend.

Posted by: SJ | April 30, 2007 5:01 PM

To Steve from Texas -

you can get a good breakfast at Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street, which is Metro accessible on the Green line. Ben's is a DC landmark and located in a historic neighborhood that is undergoing tremendous change. See

I don't get to Eastern Market often enough. Very sad to see the damage done.

Posted by: DCmom | April 30, 2007 5:03 PM


I know, I hope we don't have to get too used to going elsewhere.

I just got back from there, they're aggressively clearing out the rubble and there's a truck or two full of scaffolding ready to go up. I hope it means something beyond simple structural stabilization.

Posted by: r | April 30, 2007 5:09 PM

As a Hill resident for some 5 years, I was tremendously sorry to hear about the fire this morning at Eastern Market. I have a deep affection for the Market - when I was unemployed after grad school a few years ago and feeling rather isolated, I went every day for groceries and conversation with the vendors, who were always so friendly, and have loved it ever since. It truly is the beating heart of the neighborhood.

I am sure that right now the market's managers and vendors are in triage mode and are understandably thinking only of the building's integrity and the needs of the tenant vendors, and I have every faith that the Market will open again and that in a couple of years' time, this setback will be limited to a point of historical interest on its information boards.
However, to support this and urge it on as best we can from within the community:

For a start: we should find out which representatives, journalists, VIPs etc live on or near the Hill and stage a benefit - get the Shakespeare Theater or the Marine Barracks, or even the Kennedy Center, to donate space and performers; one Washington institution to help another in its time of need. I know that the mayor promised funding, but how much and how soon?

Second: on a less high-profile level, get neighborhood bars and restaurants to sponsor or contribute in some way to regular evenings -sports nights, pub quiz, "spirit of DC" costume party (wouldn't those be some interesting costumes), happy hour.

Third, and this would be where Marc in particular as a member of the Washington press comes in: keep this item in the local news, not allowing the city to slack on funding or local bureaucrats and activists to get into turf wars. Cover it reasonably regularly and remind public officials when possible. Also keep the public updated - let us know what is happening with interim measures as well as the long-term renovation. Individualize the vendors to the public with interviews and updates.

Fourth, apply for as many national historic preservation/rebuild grants as possible.

Fifth, galvanize and engage beyond the community - make flyers and put them through every door on the Hill and other neighborhoods around the city. Set up an e-newsletter distributed from the Eastern Market website to keep the public abreast, and also to let them know if/where vendors have temporarily relocated. Make people aware of the different stages of the project, so that they don't think that Eastern Market abruptly ended last night, and that repair work hasn't ground to a halt.

Sixth, open a competition (or some sort of initiative) to ask the public how the new building/street area should change. Get city-based architects to donate their time to assist.

Seventh: consider allowing large businesses such as Comcast, which trumpets its community involvement, to (within reason and without wanting to turn it into an MCI Center or Fedex Field) sponsor aspects of the rebuild, not necessarily branded, and consider allowing smaller businesses and individuals to "buy bricks," as you can do at Gettysburg.

Marc, please keep this high on the public agenda: we need someone like you, committed to DC as the vibrant center of many thousands of lives and not just a seat of government, to serve as a portal for information and profile-raising.

Thank you for your very moving reporting today.

Posted by: Katherine Smyth | April 30, 2007 7:04 PM

Having moved to Washington in the mid 70's and looking for eats that reminded us of home, the Market Lunch quickly became our treasured destination. Then kids, jobs that took us away from Capitol Hill, and the cocoon of the suburbs made all that a distant memory.

Fast forward 30 years with the kids grown and us working back in the city, by some miracle the Market Lunch is still there, with the indominable Tommy Glasgow at the helm. With the same menu that was on that overhead board 30 years ago.

This is more than nostalgia, it's the soul of the city. The Market will be rebuilt. Mayor Fenty will find this one promise he will have to hold above all others as far as I'm concerned.

Hang in there Tommy and the rest of you brave souls in the Eastern Market and Market Lunch.

Posted by: Bruce and Glen Finland | April 30, 2007 10:59 PM

DC Developers DO NOT have their eye on the venerable Eastern Market. To the folks who are claiming they do, you are completely out of line. Its like saying that if there was a fire at the White House, developers would have their eye on that too. The people in this city need to recognize that developers are part of the community and want it to succeed as much (if not more than anyone). This means maintaining and protecting the things that make it a desirable place to live and work.

Posted by: DC Developer | May 1, 2007 1:45 AM

DC Developer:

I hope you are the rule and not the exception.

Bring 'em Back!

Posted by: r | May 1, 2007 3:57 AM

The seasonal - producer only - farmers market operated by FreshFarm Markets in the 600 block of H Street, N.E., begins its season this Saturday, from 9am to Noon.

Posted by: sheilah | May 1, 2007 8:05 AM

I don't understand why everyone is so worried about whether or not Eastern Market will be rebuilt. Of course it will be -- it's frequented by rich yuppies and surrounded by gentrification. The city will do anything to keep rich residents happy. The same people who are worried about Eastern Market being rebuilt should be more concerned about long-time residents being displaced by high-rise condominiums.

Posted by: Daniel | May 1, 2007 10:35 PM

I don't understand why everyone is so worried about whether or not Eastern Market will be rebuilt. Of course it will be -- it's frequented by rich yuppies and surrounded by gentrification. The city will do anything to keep rich residents happy. The same people who are worried about Eastern Market being rebuilt should be more concerned about long-time residents being displaced by high-rise condominiums.

Posted by: Daniel | May 1, 2007 10:37 PM

Not to offend, but ...........

For days now, Eastern Market has been in the news and referred to as "Historical" but no one dares to mention HISTORICAL FOR WHAT !!!

Personally, I have very mixed emotions about Eastern Market.

I really wish the public was more informed about the true history of Eastern Market and Friendship House as well. -- Two major Slave Auction Blocks & holding pens for generations -- and a major issue during the "Compromise of 1812".

Today, (in general), I enjoy the festive atmosphere. However, my heart is still very heavy when I look upon the building.

I am also very concerned that the Mayor can find the money to restore a "Slave Market" for mostly non-residential merchants that have occupied the main building for years --- while only paying the City pennies per month in rental fees.

Man people don't realize that
"legislatively" the Wharf and Eastern Market were suppose to be occupied by local folk who grew or caught their own products. In stead, certain families have dominated the spaces for an eternity !!!

Ironically, many freed slaves peddled their wares, livestock and vegetables at Eastern Market following Emancipation because it was the only place they could earn a living.

For years, former Councilwoman Ambrose and other politicians have made many allowances for Eastern Market and the Wharf that they refuse to make for other small businesses or individuals.

Parts of the history of D.C. slave markets are mentioned in: "The DC Almanac: a collection of little known or suppressed facts about the colony of Washington DC".

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Posted by: nyasdwhz jlimq | May 12, 2007 9:42 PM

Hey Thruth Be Told - I don't know that much about any earlier buildings called Eastern Market but, the current Eastern Market was built in 1873. Slavery had been abolished. It is historic because it is the last of the city markets which (until recently) still operated in its "historic" capacity as a food market. In the 1800's the city built many markets and started the market system as a public service to encourage farmers and merchants from outside the city to bring fresh goods into the city to benefit the citizens of Washington, and promote more people moving into a city with "modern" conveniences.

Posted by: Food Merchant | May 22, 2007 11:57 PM

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