In story after story after story, flea markets and swap meets are shuttered to make way for new developments. One of the first stories this reporter wrote at FleaMarketZone was on the future closing of the Kam Swap Meet in Hawaii; very recently, FleaMarketZone has extensively covered the closure of the huge Aqueduct Flea Market, a New York City institution. But in Washington, D.C., a development near Capitol Hill is bucking the trend: the developers and the community are making a special place for the well-loved flea markets at Eastern Market.
“Located in the heart of the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, Eastern Market is DC’s destination for fresh food, hand-made arts and crafts and community events,” says Jose C. Sousa, director of communications at the Government of the District of Columbia’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development. “For more than 136 years, Eastern Market has served as a community hub, connecting neighbors, families and visitors.” That produce market — which has historically sold non-food items as well — is across the street from an old public school, and two flea markets have operated on the school grounds for over 25 years, on different days of the week. “It’s probably important to make a distinction here,” says Sousa. “Eastern Market is owned and operated by the city. There are two distinct flea markets that operate in the parking lot of the Hine School. One takes place on Saturdays, and one takes place on Sundays.”
But the Hine School closed in 2008 and is now vacant. The flea markets use the school’s parking lot and former playground. The proposed development is a renovation and reuse of the Hine School location. And Tom Rall has been running the Sunday Flea Market at Eastern Market for many years. “It initially started with just myself as the only exhibitor,” he recalls, “and it grew under my management to over 200 exhibitors.”
According to Rall, the market has a devoted following among the people who live near it. “The main thing is, the community has come to really support the outdoor markets. I particularly take a lot of pride in that, because I was the founder of the Sunday Flea Market at Eastern Market, some 27 years ago, now.” He says it is an integral part of the neighborhood. “They call Eastern Market the Heart of Capital Hill,” says Rall. Now it serves local residents, as well as tourists from out of town and even from overseas.
The community really got behind the flea market as the development of the Hine School site moved forward. “Because they like and value the market, the people in the neighborhood put pressure on the developers so that the plan for the location continued to encompass an outdoor market element,” says Rall. But it was not a hard sell, since the developers live in the city too, and understand the significance of the market. “The developers are also a local Capitol Hill firm, and they realize how important the growth of outdoor markets has been to the economic success of the community, so they were also inclined to include it,” says Rall.
Those developers are a partnership among six different companies, led by Stanton Development Corp. and EastBanc Inc. Their plans were initially quite ambitious, and have recently been slimmed down somewhat, but they still prominently feature a home for the flea market. FleaMarketZone spoke with two partners at Stanton Development, who were both very enthusiastic about the market. According to Ken Golding, a vibrant market reflects well on both a community and a national capitol. “As one who has traveled the world and been to most major capitals,” he says, “I can tell you that every capital city has a market. They all have markets, for artisans, vendors, farmers — everyone shows up. Markets, in big cities and in small cities, are great things to have.”
Stanton’s Kitty Kaupp is also a fan. “We totally support the vendors when we are designing our project’s market space,” she says. “Ken and I have been building mixed use projects for 30-some years. We think that market activity is really vital to the economic health of the community.”
According to Kaupp, the existing markets have been well run for years, by Tom Rall on Sunday and Carol Wright on Saturday. “They’ve each been there for many years, and they’ve done a terrific job,” she says. However, one dark cloud may be hovering over the plans for the future: Rall did say he wasn’t sure how the management of the markets might be changed under the Stanton-Eastbanc plan. That’s a point of contention that has not yet been resolved, and Rall says the city government may place the entire market’s operation under a single market manager, as was attempted in 2000.
In the meantime, both the Saturday and Sunday Flea Markets at the Eastern Market are thriving, and the markets will continue to operate as usual. Even during construction, currently scheduled to start in 2013, there will be some accommodation for the markets.
Kaupp describes the development as an ongoing process. “First we have to go through the Historic Preservation Review Board. We’re scheduled to go on the docket March 24 for concept design review,” she says. “Once we get concept design approval, we’ll go again for the more refined design of the facades. After that we go to a planned urban development zoning component for the mixed use process and zoning of the site. After that we apply for the building permits. To get all those through will take a couple years.” And, as Kaupp says reassuringly, “The flea market continues to be there the whole time.”
Photo credits, with thanks: The Stanton-Eastbanc Project for the Hine Site on Capitol Hill, Tom Rall of the Sunday Flea Market at Eastern Market, Hazel at Picassa, and Turtle Webb.