Friday Question of the Day – Should the Adams Morgan Unity Market Remain Open?

A tipster sends word that the Adams Morgan Unity Market will be closing tomorrow (Unity Park is located at Columbia/Champlain/Euclid just east of 18th St, NW.) For those not familiar with the market you can read about it here.

Back in July ’11 DCist noted:

“Vendors have agreed to forgo operations on Saturday and instead open only on Thursday, Friday and Sunday as city officials look for a more permanent place to locate them.”

And back in Sept. ’10 City Paper wrote:

“Here’s the problem: Neighboring restaurants that sell similar food say the city-sanctioned market has stolen their lunch traffic on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—the busiest days of the week.”

I’m hearing that their last day is tomorrow because apparently the DC Dept of Latino Affairs has not reapproved the permit for the market to operate.

So for the Friday Question of the Day – do you think the market should be able to continue to operate in the park? If not, do you think they should be allowed to open up at the triangle park at 14th and Oak St, NW in Columbia Heights? Elsewhere? Any other potential compromises?

79 Comment

  • Bear

    At first I was going to say that they should be able to stay where they are…but if they could relocate to the triangle park at 14th and Oak I’d be most pleased, as it is much closer to where I live! So clearly, they should cater to what I think is best for me.

    In all seriousness, I hope that the vendors can resolve the permit issues with their current location or find a good alternative.

  • There are so many things wrong with this. The restaurants’ complaints are as lame and anti-competitive as those against food trucks: WAAAAAHH! It’s not FAIR they don’t have to pay rent like we do! (Yeah, and they don’t provide tables or seating or table service either, durr.) And why does the DC Office of Latino Affairs get to decide who can use a public space that belongs to, you know, the PUBLIC?

    • I think the restaurant owners have legitimate complaints. It’s not just about paying rent; they have all kinds of other costs, and risks, that come with inhabiting a fixed space.

      I don’t know where I stand on this issue, but I wouldn’t just poo-poo the concerns of restaurant owners. They are in a tough business, and food trucks and vendors who work in a free, public space near them have certain market advantages that could, conceivably, be called unfair.

      • If the restaurants want to be competitive, then they should offer better food, simple as that. Its not like they are packed during lunch/dinner on the days the market is not up and running.

      • The restos are def losing business to the street vendors/tables. However, the losses are mainly because of the garbage that the restos’ serve. If the restos actually served good products, I don’t know that we’d be having this discussion/issue.

    • I think this is an error, as DC OLA has no permit authority/rights. I think DCRA is not giving them the permit not OLA.

    • There’s a whole lot right about this. First, the market was operating without a permit for ages and was granted only temporary permission for the last few months. Second, it was doing so on government property; also improper. Third, as a small business initiative of OLA it assisted only MD residents and failed to actually promote entrepeneurship beyond the limited hours of the market. Four, the vendors were not subject to any of the health regulations applicable to restaurants. And Five, the vendors don’t pay tax.

      So not only is this the right move, your arguments about whiney restaurant ownders vis a vis food trucks are ill-informed.

  • Competition is generally a good thing. If people want to buy food out of a tent instead of out of a building, let them.

  • Fuck these restaurants. The Unity Market vendors serve way better food than most of them and I should be able to make a choice as to what I eat.

  • Restaurants also don’t have to deal with crappy DC weather or worry about getting stuck in traffic midday. Point is, both stands/trucks and restaurants have their pros and cons. From the the point of view of a neighborhood resident, I like the options that the market adds. Competition is a good thing. Keep the market open.

  • I think the restaurants are correct in claiming that they’re losing business to these tents; however, that is mostly a result of the low quality and value of their offerings. Lets face it, Adams Morgan does not have the best eateries around. We also have to consider that while the tents and restaurants compete in the food industry, they offer different experiences: people who want to sit will likely go to restaurants, people in a rush will typically go to a tent or food truck. It’s just sad that they resort to revoking leases rather than improving their products.

  • Maybe the restaurants should bitch less and focus on serving better food. The Unity Market vendors serve good food at reasonable prices. Restaurants are losing lunch business because they generally suck.

    • I agree that there should be competition. However, I have gotten food there and it’s hit and miss/meh!

      I haven’t gone back as it wasn’t all that good.

  • Should we force several families further into poverty? Sounds like an easy question to me.

  • The last reason I’d bother going to AM is being shoved out? Now I have NO reason to go.

  • Couple of things:

    1) OLA has an MOU with the Dept. of Parks and Recreation for the space, so it is possible that OLA didn’t renew the MOU.

    2)While AM residents often complain about, well just about everything, this wasn’t one of them (unless they were a resident/business owner). The neighborhood loved this and it was ultimately a small cadre of people including the BID who forced the closure of the market.

    • Not all Adams Morgan residents like this market. My main complaint is the families and friends of the market who double park or park illegally around that triangle block ALL DAY, making it unsafe for pedestrians and other drivers. Where’s parking enforcement when you actually need them?!

      • I didn’t say all residents loved it, but far more residents liked the market than didn’t. At an ANC meeting about the market, the ONLY people to speak out against the market were other business owners. All those speaking in support were residents.

        • People who attend the ANC meeting over this are either:
          (a) in strong enough support of the market enough to give up their free time or
          (b) believe the market is stealing business away from their existing restaurant, and then ANC can do something about it.

          Saying “far more residents like the market than didn’t” is inaccurate, especially if you are only including ANC attendees are your sample pool. If you took a poll of ther average Adams Morgan resident, I’m sure you’d find a much different response.

  • Ridiculous. If you suck too bad to stay open in the face of a market, then you deserve to go out of business. This is upsetting.

  • When it’s open, this market seems to f-up traffic on Columbia Road and Euclid Street even more than normal. That said, it’s really hard to tell since the MPD does absolutely nothing to deter double parking/triple parking/jaywalking/street dancing (seriously!)/etc. on the blocks of Columbia between 18th and 16th.

    That said, the “Unity Park” is so pathetic, it’s actually nice to see the vendors put it to good use. Is there any kind of quid-pro-quo for park improvements coming out of the Marriot Hotel deal?

  • I can’t believe that a small special interest group could wield so much power here in Washington DC of all places… 😉

  • The restaurants have a legitimate beef with this, as does the resturants do against food trucks.

    These vendors pay a flat fee of 1,500 a year to the city thats it.

    Restaurants have to collect and pay a 10% tax on every single transaction. So if you have some tent vendor and some brick and mortar selling the exact same thing, at exactly the same quality, one has to build in a cost of an additional 10% just to collect the same profit.

    Then you have all the additional fees and taxes brick and mortars in Adams Morgan have to pay that street vendors don’t. BID taxes that pay to beautify the area street vendors love to occupy, and collect all the trash that they and their customers leave on the street aren’t collected. No Heatlh dept inspections or fees…

    Even on a small brick and mortar, these extras add up to tens of thousands a year, and we haven’t even hit on the big things like “rent”, or “property tax”.

    Brick and mortars make an investment in the neighborhood that wandering street vendors do not. There is room both both in the neighborhood, but not that the detriment of the other. Leveling the playing field between the two isn’t arcane or communist. It is just “fair”.

    • they still have to pay sales tax.

      • No they don’t. As I said above, they pay a $1,500 dollar a year permit fee to sell, but they do not pay sales tax (10% per transaction) to the District.

        A few of them charge it because they are banking on the general lack of awareness of the customer to notice or to know that they as vendors don’t have to remit a sales tax back to the District, but none of them pay standard DC sales tax.

        • You are incorrect Anon. Street vendors do pay that $1500 dollars annually as a fee in lieu of sales tax only. The Unity Park vendors are not street vendors and are responsible for full taxation as well as unincorporated business tax. They have Health inspections and fees there as well.

          • @Justin Case,

            Seriously man? If you can’t bother to read the article you are commenting about, then don’t bother posting. You just scream “purposely uniformed”. Read the Washington City Paper article conveneitly linked above in this PoP post. It clearly says these Market Vendors are charged 375/qtr.

            Reading comp is key

    • +1

      It seems to me that a perpetual market set up on specific days is far more like a bricks and mortar restaurant than a food truck.

      True the market vendors have more risk associated with their business (rain, cold weather, etc) than the bricks and mortar places. But they also have much, much less overhead and their $1500 annual tax payment in now way equates to the various taxes that the local restaurant community has to pay.

    • Did the brick and mortar places have the opportunity to choose to be a tent vendor instead? If so, tough cookies. Find a way to offset the 10% build in or offer a different and better product.

      I’m not saying I support the current tax structure, although can I the theory behind it. But POP’s posts doesn’t mention the brick-and-morter’s asking the District to refine the tax code; from the post, it seems the B&M’s are merely whining to the City that they need to move the competition. Big difference in my eyes.

      On an aside, I wonder if the relative success of the open-air market, when compared to its B&M counterparts, is a cultural thing, in part. I know in my travels to South and Central America, open air places like the market is where everyone goes for lunch.

  • andy

    I fail to see how I would suffer as a consumer if the market continued in its location.

    I could believe that the restaurants’ business would suffer but I do not believe that any business would fail because of traffic lost to the little latin street market.

    From a consumer perspective, having both the restaurants and the market is better than having only the restaurants. I believe a DC government shutdown of the market is the only thing that will leave us without both.

    I would appreciate a DC government that would place the clearly foreseeable wishes of its residents ahead of DC businesses.

    • You suffer as a resident of the city and a taxpayer.

      People, including many on this blog continually rail against the injustices of cheap chinese products and the mega box retailers and the detrimental effect they have on competition and local employment they have here, but fail to see the difference here.

      The existing system in the District has a built in structural inbalance when it comes to things like brick and mortar vendors and street vendors.

      How does it affect you? Easy, local business is driven out of business, store fronts sit empty destroying the vitality of the neighborhood. Fewer BID taxes are collected, meaning trash collects on the streets, fewer sales taxes are collected meaning fewer city services, libraries close (ahem…MLK anyone).

      And lets be honest for a second. As someone who has spent some money at this Market, the prices aren’t cheaper than what you pay at the restaurant down the street. Why? Because they know thats what the market bears, hence what they can get away with charging. So their taxation is less, structural expenses are less and they charge the same money.

      • +1 The few times I’ve stopped by this market for lunch I’ve actually been surprised by how expensive it is. It’s not really a cheaper option than, say, Julia’s Empanadas or McD’s.

        • HA…..Did you really just toss McD’s in this conversation. Trash

          • Yeah, McD’s is gross, but I’d say it’s a rough substitute for the cash-and-carry lunch you get at the Unity Park market. They’re priced about the same, though I’d prefer to get lunch at the market than McD’s.

            Ya gotta admit that without the market, McD’s is going to be one of the few options nearby for a quick, to-go lunch.

      • 1) would love to see some of the brick and mortar spots close down, and open up some room for new restaurants, that actually serve good food, and care about the appearance of their location. That whole corner looks like crap, minus the bike shop
        2) Prices are 100% lower, and the quality is way better.
        3) Whats the latest on the hotel project? If that goes through, then those spots are gone anyway

        • 100% lower? Huh?

          So these MD and VA vendors who set up a tax free shop on free DC public land are also giving away their products for free?

          Well golly gee, Nirvana has arrived.

      • andy

        I agree there would be less tax revenue for the City. But I do not believe that the market stalls are going to put any neighboring restaurant out of business.

        • Well, believe what you will, but Friday/Saturday/Sunday is only 40% of the calendar week, but makes up nearly 70% of my sales. So having someone from MD who doesn’t have to pay for health inspections, doesn’t pay the city a 10% sales tax or doesn’t pay thousands of dollars a year in BID taxes that someone above mentioned, and who sets up on DC public land that they don’t pay for, does hurt my business, significantly.

          • andy

            my only question is why the city cares about your loss more than mine?

          • Because I pay significantly more taxes than you, both property and income, let alone the hundreds of thousands a year in sales tax I provide to the District treasury, then there is the thousands a year in BID money I provide directly to the neighborhood to beautify the street you walk on. Lastly, if the city doesn’t care about any of those things, then there is the small item of the 18 District residents I employ in a city with a 10% unemployment rate.

            The more appropriate question is why wouldn’t the city care more about my loss than yours? Unless you are some long lost Rockefeller living in GT whose pays a 7 figure income tax bill, I think the answer to your question is easy to see.

          • Ooooo, Andy = Burned !

          • andy

            I do not care about whether DC gets more or less tax money or what that money can buy.

            Most of the things additional tax money can pay for are not for me.

            I care more about being able to eat where I want.

            I want the City to be in line with my preference for consumer choice over greater tax payments.

          • Ya, Andy wins this round. This country rejected localeateryowner’s theory of democracy about 200 years ago.

          • Andy wins the theory category.

            localeateryowner wins the reality category.

  • There is a massive demand for inexpensive food options in this city that these vendors are meeting. Sorry, not all of us can afford or particularly enjoy having to pay a minimum of $10 for a meal all the time.

  • I feel like the unity market would only detract marginally from restaurant business, but this is from my own personal decisions based on where to eat. If I’m in the mood to eat a quick bite at a reasonable price, then I am going to look for a market, food truck, deli, or something comparable. However, there are days you don’t feel like standing , you want more options, you don’t want your napkin to blow in the wind, or it’s too damn hot or cold outside to eat tacos. So I eat inside. I’ve never been on my way to eat at a similar eatery in AM and then been deterred by the unity market tacos. I could see this happening for a few folks, but largely, if you want something quick or cheap, you were likely not going to eat at one of the similar “sit-down” options nearby in the first place. I do get that the playing field is not always level and I don’t know enough about details on the taxes for restaurants in DC, but there also many positives about being inside and having seating, a server, etc., that food trucks or food markets can not plug into. I feel like that’s also overlooked in these arguments since it is not a financial concern, but a definite advantage.

    If this does go, I will sorely miss it. I love the convenience and sometimes it’s hit or miss, but I’ve had a heck of a lot of hits there and have really enjoyed it. I would love if they found a space in Columbia Heights, but would they run into the same problem? That’s right by Distrito Federal which I adore, and arguably is a more comparable competition (in that the prices are lower). Not sure how that location would help but I hope it finds a home– and nearby so I can still indulge tacos al pastor in my hungover state on saturday mornings.

  • I think if you can’t figure out how to capitalize on increased foot traffic looking for products just like yours then you aren’t a particularly good business owner.

  • Well, they were never going to be allowed to stay with the fancy marriot going in, so we knew it was coming, but this is sad.

    I loved going to the market on saturdays, after a nice walk with the dog, and picking up some good food to eat at home while watching footie. Boo.

    So long great street vendors.

  • austindc

    I hope they stay open. I don’t see how the other restaurants are the market’s problem. Like, if Giant complained about the farmers’ markets, I would tell them to blow it out their ear. Tell the restaurants to open their own market stand if they want a slice of that pie. But if it’s a paperwork thing, I hope the market gets it straightened out so that they can stay. Markets like this add flavor and life to neighborhoods.

  • I have two issues with these tents. First, and this is relatively minor, is that they set up their tents on the sidewalk. So, when you cross onto the triangle, say to get to the only crosswalk across Columbia Road between Ontario and 18th Street, you have to navigate around them. Seems a little silly to me.

    But, more importantly, is that none of the people who operate these tents are from DC. I watch them set up every Thursday morning on my way to work. They all set up from white pick-up trucks with Maryland or Virginia tags. I’d be in favor of the DC government allowing DC residents to use DC land in this manner. I have a concern that the DC government allows non-DC residents to set up shop on public land.

  • I don’t have any issues with the Unity Park market (although I’ve never bought anything from there).

    What I _do_ have a problem with is the sidewalk vendors on Columbia in front of the Safeway/CVS and on the other side of the street. They’re an eyesore.

  • Agree with CoHiGuy…

  • son of a bitch! this was my go-to hangover food spot. i really love the ‘get your taste of puerto rico riight heeere’ guy. the food they serve is much better than mix tec and much cheaper. fuck this

  • community building, multi-cultural, positive and profitable? sounds terrible, lets get it outta there!
    An idea. how about the restaurants get together and get rid of the Real things stopping people from eating in there – crime, bums, health code violations…

  • please bring the market to columbia heights. the restaurants are a bunge of whiners! even us yuppies want low cost food too!!!!

  • they are all dc residents. they get a friend or hire a “ride” to help them with their stuff. most of them do not own a car.

  • I WOULD LOVE TO SEE THEM ON 14th and OAK. There’s plenty of foot traffic and the triangle park a perfect size and welcome location.

  • I work in A-M and I can tell you – lunch choices aren’t that extensive here. I grab tacos or enchiladas once a week, the guy we go to makes excellent Mexican street food. We never have food trucks here for lunch, so I don’t see why this is any different.

    And frankly – the fact that this is all driven by the chicken lady – well that’s just sad. Everything in A-M is driven by a few businesses with limited interest in the neighborhood beyond the suburban drinking crowd on Friday and Saturday. This neighborhood has charm, and the potential to be a great mix of living and working – but we need actual vision to lead it. I’m writing the City Council – and going to the Business Partnership – because driving out foot traffic is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard as an attempt to protect a restaurant business.

  • Why do the restaurant owners think that the proper role of government regulation is to provide “fairness” by decreasing their competion? Government regulations are supposed to help the CONSUMER by providing increased competition. If there is a health or safety issue with the vendors, it should be addressed. But to regulate them out of existance at the behest of their competitors would be ludicrous and and outrage.

    • Why do street vendors think that they should be exempt from all forms of taxation or oversight required of other businesses?

      Really, its a genius move. I am a MD resident and decide to sell pizza from a tent. So I set up in Adams Morgan right in front of another pizza place. I pay a laughable minimal registration fee of $1,500 a year and price my pie a nickle less than the competition 10′ away.

      I sell all my pizza, not remitting a cent back to the District. I, along with all my customers throw away all their napkins and paper plates I served them with their slice in the nearby trash can. Hey, the local businesses pay for that trash pickup, why should I pay for it?

      I then take my profits home to MD with me to be taxed there.

      Man oh, man…I don’t understand why you stogie DC business owners are all in a tizzy. I was only allowed to come into town to mirror your business model and siphon your business, but I didn’t have to pass any inspections, pay any taxes or be responsible for any of the trash I left but you pay to have hauled away. Why so ornry?

  • Perhaps these restaurant owners who feel slighted by the market can, themselves, set up shop there. This would allow them to get their name and product out there and generate revenue at the same time. Similar to established restaurants that operate food trucks.

    The market brings character to the area and has been a favorite thing of mine since moving to Adams Morgan two years ago, would hate to see it go…and it does wonders for the hangovers.

    • Bc, the restaurant owners food is crap, and they think if they get the market out of there, then people will be forced to eat their food. Good Luck. If anything it just makes me dislike the restaurants around the market even more.

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