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Eastern Market: All Fired Up

The queue to peek inside the burned-out shell of Eastern Market stretched nearly a block long at times on Sunday, but this was no idle gawking. This was a sign of a neighborhood geared up to make things happen.

It's often hard to predict what will get a community to coalesce; I've seen great historic buildings bite the dust with hardly a peep out of the locals, and then I've seen people who ordinarily don't get involved in their hometowns turn their lives upside down because some place they valued was threatened. The outpouring of support for the merchants who made Eastern Market the centerpiece of Capitol Hill is one of the most powerful gatherings of community support I've seen in years.

At the annual Market Day celebration Sunday, neighborhood shops such as Uncle Brutha's hot sauce emporium contributed $1 from every purchase to the rebuilding project, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation gave people a way to donate toward the rebuilding and the support of the merchants until they can get back on their feet, a slew of Hill bars and gathering spots came together to pledge to give five or ten percent of their proceeds from tonight's business--that's tonight, Tuesday--to the rebuilding effort, and you could sign petitions, buy t-shirts, and, best of all, visit with some of those burned-out merchants. (Details on the bars' effort are on the jump.)

With all the well-wishers stopping buy for hugs and encouragement, Leon Calomiris and his family could hardly find time to sell the relative handful of vegetables they had on display on a little card table outside the Market. A longtime customer brought a tray of homemade baklava--maybe not the same as Mrs. Calomiris's version, but awfully sweet and kind nonetheless. Several of the inside merchants set up shop under the awnings outside the market, but since they are likely to be out of the building for at least a couple of years, the merchants need a more permanent arrangement.

Mayor Adrian Fenty, who spent a good chunk of Sunday afternoon walking through the Market Day crowd and talking to customers and merchants alike, said the District is already moving forward on a plan for a temporary structure that would be placed on city land, most likely on the schoolyard of Hine Junior High, just across from Eastern Market. The Washington chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture designed a temporary market shed that could be placed at Hine, outside Eastern Market, or further south on Seventh Street SE.

The Market merchants issued a statement saying that they all prefer the Hine site because of its proximity to the Market, and the parking and loading facilities there.

The District, meanwhile, set about trying to turn the shell of the building into something more than a burned-out shell. A press release from the city said::

As conceived by City Administrator Dan Tangherlini, the
D.C. Office of Property Management (OPM) and the DC Commission on the Arts &
Humanities (CAH) have arranged for artists to paint the windows boarded-up
in the aftermath of the tragic Eastern Market fire. The first window will
be painted on Sunday, Market Day, by scenery artists from the
Shakespeare Theatre Company.

All told, this is a genuine and moving outpouring of support, a sign that Hill residents and visitors alike recognize the role that the Market plays in bringing people together and in creating the pedestrian-friendly feel that makes the neighborhood such a draw.

Neighbors Drink Up for Eastern Market group hosts city-wide "Happy Hour" for Eastern Market

WHAT: Thousands of District residents plan to use their happy hour this
Tuesday, May 8th to begin the rebuilding of Eastern Market. Started as a group "Rescue Eastern Market" by Clay Johnson on the day of the
fire, more than one-thousand people joined the group and decided to turn
virtual concern into real dollars. Members of the group
include recent transplants to DC and life long citizens.

"The market is a tie to the history of our city and our country. As a living
museum in a world of mega-chains, it's important to step up and ensure we
don't lose this important part of our shared heritage," group member
remarked Erin Hofteig who will attend the Hawk and Dove happy hour on
Capitol Hill.

DC native Tanya Tarr, who plans to attend the happy hour at Bourbon in Adams
Morgan, explains "I grew up in DC, so when I heard about the damage, I
really took it personally. The group helped me connect with
others, and even though I don't live in the Eastern Market neighborhood,
it's been really heartening to see folks and businesses in my neighborhood,
Columbia Heights, and across the city chip in. It really makes me proud to
be from here."

WHO: Rescue Eastern Market an informal group of concerned neighbors
organized through the social networking site More than 1000
concerned citizens joined the group within days of the devastating fire at
Eastern Market. In addition to the group, updated information
is available at

WHEN/WHERE: More than twenty bars and establishments have pledged to donate
5% to 10% on Tuesday, May 8th.

Hawk and Dove 5% donation 7-10PM
Science Club 5% donation 5-10PM
Murky Coffee 10% donation All day
Ventnor Sports Bar 5% donation 7-10PM
Montmartre 10% 11.30 to 2.30 and 5.30 to 10.00
Lounge 201 5% Donation 4PM to Midnight
Union Pub 5% Donation All Day
Schneider's Of Capitol Hill 10% of the Day's Wine Sales All
Pour House 5% Donation 7-10PM
Trusty's 5% Donation 7-10PM
18th Amendment 5% Donation 7-10PM
Tunnicliff's 10% Donation All Day! 10AM to 1AM
The Old Siam 5% Donation 5-10:30pm
Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar 5% donation 6-10PM
Fin McCool's 5% Donation All Day
The Ugly Mug 5% Donation 5-10PM
Ebenezers Coffeehouse 5% Donation All Day
Trattoria Alberto 5% Donation All Day
Belga Cafe 5% donation 5-10PM
Marvelous Market 5% donation All Day
Murky Coffee Arlington 5% donation All Day
Express Business Center 5% donation All Day
Bourbon 5% donation 6pm-11pm
Hamiltons Bar and Grill 5% donation 5pm-2am

By Marc Fisher |  May 8, 2007; 7:37 AM ET
Previous: Georgetown Library Fire Aftermath | Next: Lighten Up About The Queen, Or Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out


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Thanks for keeping the Eastern Market story in the news, Marc; it really is amazing how much the neighborhood has rallied around the building. (For example, I'm not sure I've ever seen a line at a booth soliciting donations before, but most of this weekend there was a line of people waiting to do just that at the CHCF booth on Seventh Street!)

I also thought I should let you know that there's now a website set up to track all the news, plans, and events surrounding the Market fire and rebuilding, Save Eastern Market ( ). Hopefully, as the current flurry of events and awareness dies down, the commitment to rebuilding the Market quickly and to helping the displaced merchants and vendors can be maintained -- that's the point of the site!

Posted by: Jason | May 8, 2007 8:26 AM

At the over-flow community meeting on Eastern Market at Hine JHS last night, Mayor Fenty announced an Eastern Market Blog on the DC government home page so citizens could contribute suggestions. This morning -- no blog. I've emailed the Mayor and OPM. I suggest others with suggestions do the same.

Posted by: Mike Licht | May 8, 2007 9:04 AM

My husband saw a similar line of people waiting to look through the windows of Eastern Market on Saturday. Me, I can't bring myself to walk up the block just yet. But I'm spreading the word about tonight's fund raisers and looking forward to some very out-of-character bar hopping for a good cause. Save me one of those great t-shirts!

Posted by: Karen | May 8, 2007 9:30 AM

Hearty thanks for putting a spotlight on this -- chronicling the rescue effort is a key part of this "powerful gathering of community support." Kudos.

Posted by: Greg Greene | May 8, 2007 9:40 AM

Thank you so much for drawing attention to tonight's event as well as all of the many other activities and organizations that have been created to support our friends, the merchants at Eastern Market. I am on the board of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, which has been supporting the community since 1989, giving about $200,000 annually in small grants to community groups that do a wide variety of things for our neighborhood, such as afterschool tutoring programs, tree planting initiatives, and providing meals for the homeless. The board members pay for all of the administrative expenses out of their own pockets so that 100% of every penny we raise can go straight back out to the community.

Our Eastern Market relief fund is no exception, and we are working now to determine how best to support the displaced merchants of Eastern Market. So far, we've raised about $170,000 and we are thrilled to see the incredible diversity in the people who are coming together in support of our neighborhood market. Please keep up to date with the fundraising by bookmarking our site: Thanks!

Posted by: Kristen Hartke | May 8, 2007 9:49 AM

Thanks Marc for the love!

A few more bars to drink at:

The Big Hunt- DuPont
My Brother's Place

And, a lot of thanks to Roll Call and The Hill for free ad space.

Posted by: Melissa Byrne | May 8, 2007 9:58 AM

The city should use this as an opportunity to come up with a comprehensive plan for the block. Hine Jr High is scheduled to close. The city has said they want to renovate the existing ugly and outdated building to make offices for DC school personnel. This is a bit silly. It'd cost multiple millions to renovate, and you'd still have a huge dead zone in the block. Why not use this as an impetus to use that massively expensive real estate as a community asset? Tear down that heinous eyesore. Redevelop it, with several levels of underground parking, a level of retail, and office or whatever uptop. The city could either sell it outright (with stipulations that it have parking and retail) or they could keep it, build the building, and collect massive rents forever. The better option would be selling it, as the city has a dismal record in managing retail assets. They could use the stunning amount of money they'd get to build several new Hine Jr Highs, on less expensive land, with great assets for the students.

Posted by: Hillman | May 8, 2007 10:07 AM

Just out of curiousity, who owns the Eastern Market building? And didn't they have any insurance on the property?

Posted by: rockville | May 8, 2007 10:15 AM

Thank you so much for the great piece, everyon on the hill and across the city appreciates the support. I hope to see everyone at the Hawk & Dove event tonight or hear you were at one of the other numerous events happening across the city.

Posted by: Erin Hofteig | May 8, 2007 10:15 AM

Rockville: The city owns it. And apparently like many cities they find the cost of insurnance prohibitive so they don't insure.

Posted by: Hillman | May 8, 2007 10:17 AM

I found out yesterday that Capitol Hill Yoga is offering a class on Sunday at noon. All proceeds (however much you are willing to donate) will be given to the Capitol Hill Community Fund. All levels are welcome :)

Posted by: Umich | May 8, 2007 10:34 AM

Make sure WalMart does not catch wind of this or they will come in and try to replace it with their own "solution'.

Posted by: Tired of it. | May 8, 2007 1:02 PM

Thanks for the info, Hillman. I understand the old 'self-insured' concept. It's only good if the owner will truely act as the insurance company.

Posted by: rockville | May 8, 2007 1:03 PM

For those who didn't attend, last night's community meeting was an inspiring demonstration of support for the Market and the merchants. The overflow crowd lead the City to open up a second room and the City really seemed to hear what the community had to say. The crowd was unanimous that the temporary structure should be set up in the Hine lot. We also agreed that the facilities of the temporary building should be guided by the needs of the merchants but that no excess effort or resources should be diverted from the goal of restoring the Market as quickly as possible. Finally, most of the group felt that Seventh Street between C Street and North Carolina should be closed to vehicle traffic on weekends to accomodate any displaced flea market vendors and to create a pedestrian walking area. Let's hope the City moves quickly on these ideas (I'm very hopeful at this point).

Posted by: Hill Resident | May 8, 2007 1:38 PM

As a regular Sunday vendor at the flea market in the Hine schoolyard, I was considerably alarmed last night when I heard a TV news person say that there was a consensus that the temporary structure should go there. I am happy to hear Hill Resident say that the intent is not to put us out of business.

I am in it mostly for fun (though we make some money and it is useful), but most of the vendors depend on the market for their livelihood. We have always considered ourselves just as much part of the market community as the Glasgows and the Canaleses and our many regular customers, many of whom we count as friends. I get the idea that there are some people who see us as an undesirable element, and if so, I have to resent it.

Posted by: vendorperson | May 8, 2007 2:30 PM

I second this. I have a friend who will probably go out of business in the 13 vendors are moved to the Hines School Parking lot and no alternative location is provided.

I understand that the DC government and the new mayor are under extreme pressure to show that they have a plan to take care of the 13 displaced vendors...and they should be taken care of. However, let's make sure that we also take care of the 200 or so other vendors that may be without a place to sell their goods every weekend. These people have families, rent to pay and mouths to feed as well.

There must be a better compromise here than displacing 200 businesses to meet the needs of a high profile 13.

Posted by: arlington | May 8, 2007 4:01 PM

Arlington, you should have attended last night's meeting or taken the time to get your facts straight before allegeding that flea marke vendors would be "displaced." The whole relocation plan is taking that into account, and space will be made available for everyone in the mix. Plus, if you think the flea market vendors would even have a client base without the market and its full time vendors, you're sadly mistaken. Everyone, vendors, flea market merchants, patrons, will be taken into account.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2007 5:00 PM

Unnamed...I'm very glad to hear it, although that would seem to be at odds with the two emails that I have received today from "flee market" vendors who could attend last night's meeting and who are currently in the process of lobbying local supporters to their cause. I grant that the market vendors are the core attraction of the market, which is why I was suggesting that the DC Government focus on a compromise that makes more folks it stands right now not everyone is as satisfied with the proposed solution as the general statement in your post would suggest....

Posted by: arlington | May 8, 2007 6:30 PM

I'm heartened to read the concern in the hearts and minds of the market patrons and weekend vendors and I hope we can all move forward together to restore the mix of market activities that have made it such a desirable destination spot........Thank you

Posted by: Food Merchant | May 9, 2007 9:33 AM

Hello everyone, wanna be part of some kind of community, possible here? anyone here?

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