“I do not believe that my city is this immoral.”

hines flea

“Dear PoPville,

It is with great sadness that I received the news that the city plans to take over the Flea at Eastern Market that Mike Berman and Diverse Managements, LLC have spent years creating and running smoothly.

Mr. Berman and his team have put their hearts and souls into this weekly market. They’ve created an amazing weekly gathering of the city’s most vibrant, diverse, and talented vendors. They have survived many challenges in over 30 years to do this. All the while, Mr.Berman and his team have shown the utmost concern and fairness to all their vendors. Many years of honorable service and fairness are being ignored by the Department of General Services’ decision to terminate Mr.Berman’s contract.

In what way can the city justify suddenly seizing the creation and livelihood of Mr. Berman and the 15 people he currently employs?

They have been given notice that in two months, the City will be the running their section of the market. The members of Mr.Berman’s team have been involved with the market from the beginning. For many of them, it is their life’s work. For decades, the weekly market has been their livelihood. I’m sorry to overuse that word, but there is no other way to put it. These people have given so much to this market and now everything they have built is being taken from them. Imagine working somewhere for over 30 years and doing a great job at it and then suddenly being told that in two months, your position is being taken. Is this the way that the city wants to treat the people who have spent their lives creating the Flea at Eastern Market, an institution that does nothing but benefit the community (through incubating small businesses, bringing people together, supporting local farms and artists, outreach for the homeless, etc)?

Management of the 300 block of 7th Streetmay offer a slight revenue increase to the currently city run Eastern Market, but it is taking away an entire world for the hard-working people who have made this market what it is today.

The decision from the Department of General Services has come with no warning at all. Mr.Berman and his vendors have just survived an incredibly challenging displacement by the Hines School development project. Mr.Berman and his team were able to engineer the best layout and logistical strategy to protect and maintain the livelihood of the vendors that have been under his management for many years. This was not easy and now that the hard-work has been done, the city has announced its seizure.

At best, this is a very thoughtless and irresponsible move by the DGS. But to many, it feels much worse.

I do not believe that my city is this immoral.

Please help stop the DGS’s shortsighted action.”

49 Comment

  • Tsar of Truxton

    You don’t have to like it. It may suck, but it is what we call life. How is this any different than small businesses closing all over the city because their lease is up and the landlord wants to capitalize on the gentrified neighborhood. Unfortunately, its just the way the world works.

    • Actually, it’s not. The city appears to be taking over management of an active business. It’s attempting to legitimize theft by the government, and unacceptable.

      Quite frankly, what the heck is the city doing, trying to be in the business of managing things that should be the purview of private business anyway? Regulate, fine. Actually run? Then why have private business at all?

      • The flea market is moving under the purview of Eastern Market. A city-run business that leases space to vendors both in the historic market as well as the 200 block of 7th Street. So really the entire operation is just being consolidated.

        I’m guessing a vast majority of people that have been to the Flea Market just assumed Eastern Market was in charge of it as well.

      • justinbc

        One way to avoid the people you’re renting your land from from not allowing you to continue operations there is to actually buy some land yourself and run your business there. If you’re leasing space you have no expectation of continued use beyond what your contract states.

        • Aglets

          DC taking over eastern market entirely is a new thing- since the fire

          • Where were the flea market operators complaints then? The city was taking over a private business after all. Oh, wait, that’s right. They were profiting off the city’s investment into the market so we heard nothing from them at that time.

            Has DGS mismanaged the hell out of Eastern Market? Yup. But that stems from below market rents and the existing vendors happy to not have to compete on a level playing field with other business. Then of course the bizarre vendor restrictions on the outside market which need to be loosened ASAP.

      • It’s a business built on city property, ie the street. You can’t see the difference between that and why do we have private enterprise at all? Theft by the government? I see a private business stealing public land and using it for their own profit.

      • DC is not “taking over management of an active business” or legitimating theft.

        They are opting not to renew a lease on their land, and then choosing to go into business themselves along similar lines. It’s no more theft than a private landlord choosing not renew a lease to a bar, and then opening a bar using the buildout that’s left behind.

        That hardtop is _not_ a public right of way. It’s land privately owned by the city, along the same lines as a warehouse owned by DGS.

        It’s both completely legal, and in the best traditions of “private enterprise”. Somewhat shocked to see an advocate for the private sector complaining at private-sector-like behaviour on the part of the government. If the people behind “the Flea” want special treatment from the government, they are rent-seeking.

        • Don’t you think we oughta hold the men and women and that we elect and fund with our tax dollars to a higher standard of behavior?

          • Accountering

            Yes, I do! They should be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and the includes making sure they are getting fair value out of city assets. DC is doing the right thing here IMO.

      • Mr. Berman did not complain when the city spent many millions rebuilding Eastern Market after the fire. He has made a nice living off of city property. Time to move on. He has been given two months notice. This is not theft.

  • 1) This was a privately run market that leased space from the city, first at Hine then in the public right of way. When that contract ended, the city didn’t renew it. It’s not like anybody is seizing a private business here. Let’s quit the hyperbole.
    2) The City/Eastern Market/DGS really handled this whole thing poorly and has nobody but themselves to blame for the blowback.
    3) This letter alludes to it and I think the fight really shows it. Someone is making a fair amount of money from a below-market value lease from the city. Eastern Market has a directive to at least break even so seeing potential money go from eastern market to a private operator of course was always going to be a target.

    • Re: 3, if they were paying below market value, then renew the lease at a higher price.

      • Or don’t. Do whatever is revenue-maximising, the way any landlord would do.

        • The phrase “higher price” is pretty broad. Amazing that you could look at a phrase that open-ended and then argue that there is a better economic option out there. You can’t make such a comparison without real sums of money on the table. Ah, the Internet.

  • justinbc

    From the linked article:
    “We expect that there will be questions about how this will change things for customers and for the vendors who sell on the 300 block. The truth is that customers won’t notice much change. And there won’t be much change for the vendors either: All of the vendors who sell there now will be given the opportunity to keep selling, if they wish.”
    So, no changes to customers or vendors, but they just didn’t renew the operating licenses for the two people running the operation. That definitely sucks for those two, but to be honest these types of shenanigans don’t really surprise me when it comes to city government. This is pretty average on the immorality scale for them.

  • The hyperbole from these folks (like many of their food truck friends) is maddening. They build a business on public property–that we as tax payers pay to keep up–and then freak out if the city has anything to say or changes their lease. A private business doesn’t have a right to a public space.

    • The food truck analogy is inapt; the streets are public rights of way. The public has a right to be there. This hardtop is the private property of the city, much like city offices or warehouses would be. The public may “own” the space through the vehicle of the government, but they have no special rights there. In that way, they’re like shareholders of a company; entitled to steer its direction, receive rewards, but not necessarily invade the office space of the corporation.

      • It’s a little complicated now. The market is now in the public right of way on 7th street after the hine construction started. When it’s done, there will be a plaza and a private road at the development that the market will move to. That will be privately owned land and I assume leased back to the city at a rate negotiated in the disposition

      • You obviously haven’t been to the market in a while. It’s no longer in the parking lot, and is now set up on 7th street now. Literally. I find the setup preferable, personally, but the food truck comparison certainly stands at this point.

    • Food truck pay dc sales tax. Just throwing that in there since you’re sorta making them sound like freeloaders when they’re not.

  • Agree that this is terrible news, but there was plenty of bad blood between the flea market folks and the city after the Hine Wars. Doubt this was a major shocker…

  • It’s not good for the two people who currently have the lease, for sure. But I don’t know that I’d go as far as to say it’s immoral.

  • Aglets

    I hate this. THe portion of the market that is run by the city is so wildly mismanaged. I don’t know how they’re going to handle the sudden influx of people. They should fire Margeson and hire Berman in his place.

    • This I could get behind! The city run flea market portion is fine-ish, I guess, from a visitor’s perspective, but definitely a step below the other merchants. Eastern Market needs new blood, outside, inside (I’m looking at you, Union Meat), and in leadership.

  • I live a few blocks from the market so have been hearing about this for the last week or so. The opponents seem to be the same people who were against the new development where the middle school used to stand, so it’s hard for me to think of them as anything other than opponents of change. The problem I’ve had is that none of them have provided any evidence or reason to suggest that the flea market will be any worse under this restructuring. This is an honest question that I’ve yet to hear an answer to: other than this being a change, and a couple managers who aren’t necessarily instrumental to the operation losing their slice of the revenue, what’s the actual problem? Is there one? As others have already pointed out, this is a change that the city is certainly entitled to make if they choose to do so.

    • This is not about fighting change, this is about not allowing the government to come and take over what other people have created.

      • BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. I’m so sick of these crappy flea markets. They don’t really provide many product that people want to buy. Union Market is a model that works, not these outdoor crap markets.

        To the dismay of other people, I can’t wait for the retail that comes with Hines.

      • “…this is about not allowing the government to come in and take over what other people have created.”

        I get the anger Berman feels and I would feel for him to if I were a friend of his. The fact remains is the city is simply the landowner who is entitled to do what it chooses with their land. Berman’s business and selection of vendors is not copywrited.

        The flea market business can legally be replicated by the city to maximize city revenue and enjoyment of city assets for citizens. We will soon find out if the city’s replication sucks. If they blow it I’ll be happy if they bring Berman back because it will prove his team’s worth. The process and experience will be a good lesson for everyone.

    • I’m no fan of the anti-Hine contingent, but just comparing the two sides of the market, as a Hill resident, I’m concerned. The flea market appears to have gotten some really interesting new merchants lately and appears to be thriving while the other part of the market is either slipping or appears to be slipping in comparison to other farmers markets that have sprouted up in DC. It’s my impression that the quality of the produce and the vendors have gone down. Even in previous summers, there were more local and organic vendors around. When I went last week, not only were there fewer but half of them had stuff you can get at Giant (bananas, watermelons, Driscoll strawberries). This is supposed to be the height of market season. I’d like to hear from the vendors about what they think of the reorganization.

      • Aglets

        that is also a factor that it’s august and many vendors don’t come to the market in the hot hot heat of the summer

  • I understand that the challenge DMM is facing is that the market runs on a public street, but that is only because the previous location was taken from them and sold to property developers. Furthermore please keep in mind that DMM cannot simply survive somewhere else. By expanding to the 300 block of 7th Street, the City is also taking Mr.Berman’s vendor clients. He cannot simply start another market elsewhere because most of his vendors will elect to remain where their customers know them to be, at the Eastern Market.

  • Agreed! Further, talk with any of the inside companies – all there for so long, serving our community – and you know the frustration about DC “management” of the Market. They e made it out to be a tourist attraction, marketing it as something to see not a place where we shop. On weekends, it’s impossible to get through the crowds of non-buyers who hurt the income of the merchants. DC needs to get out of the Eastern Market biz period! And yes, Michael Berman needs to stay for the Flea. Nobody does it better.

    • The inside vendors need to step up their game. They profit from below market rent but offer very little to attract a new clientele as places like Union Market, Ferry Terminal or Pike Place Market has done? Why does EM need two produce vendors, two poultry vendors and two butchers? The baked goods are on par with local groceries (they sell Martins potato rolls) and there is nothing special about the factory made fresh pasta that is bring purveyed. The Hine folks dropped the ball by not recognizing that ground floor space could be developed along the lines of a Chelsea Market or Asian style street market.

      • Agreed, I live one block away and never shop there. Half the market is meat, which I don’t eat, or prepared foods, which I’d rather make myself, or fish that is not good enough to justify the high prices. The florist is very expensive too, and the bakery is not good at all.
        There are so many places nearby where you can get nice specialty foods now– Sapore, Soma, Radici, and Sweet Lobby to name a few. And the new Yes! is quite good for basic groceries. They need to make themselves stand out more.

      • janie4

        Because two vendors makes it more likely you’ll find what you want. If one butcher is out of something, you can go down the market and see if the other guy has it. If you have two locations selling the same product near each other, then people who really need that item will head there, because the odds are better they’ll find it. Otherwise, they’ll make the decision on convenience.

  • Having named The Flea Market at Eastern Market when I began managing it on Sundays in 1984 and continuing still in its operation as a partner in DMM, which I spun off and funded more than 11 years ago and which purchased rights to the flea market from me in 2011, understandably, I am disheartened that I will no longer be able to continue in what has become my life’s work after Septermber 30.

    But I am not so much worried about myself as the assets not only DMM and the City but also the neighborhood are losing by the take over of our business. These include EasternMarket.net which has drawn millions of visits and contains a valuable history of the Sunday outdoor market at Eastern Market as the first ever web site devoted to the historic market and The Flea Market at Eastern Market, a facebook page with more than 10,000 followers for its many postings.

    Certainly the most important asset the city will be losing is outdoor market management experience. DMM and its staff represent more than 125 combined years of such management, not only at Eastern Market, but also at several other markets around the region, including The Downtown Holiday Market now recognized as one of the best in the US along with The Flea Market at Eastern Market, recognized as one of the best in the world.

    I am concerned mostly about our employees, many of whom are supplementing Social Security income, who will be losing their long-term part time jobs. On many levels, among those cited here, the seizure of our business IS JUST NOT RIGHT!

    Tom Rall, Communications Director
    The Flea Market at Eastern Market

    • I was with you until “I am concerned mostly about our employees, many of whom are supplementing Social Security income, who will be losing their long-term part time jobs. On many levels, among those cited here, the seizure of our business IS JUST NOT RIGHT!” Sorry but you have no right to get paid by renting out city property. If you think the city will mismanage the market, provide some evidence (above you provided just vague insinuations). As incensed as you apparently are, I don’t think arguing that you’l make less money if the city does this is going to persuade anyone.

    • justinbc

      One of the best in the world… LOL. It’s not even the best in DC. Don’t flatter yourself. You had a nice run, but as an actual neighbor in Capitol Hill I can count on one hand the number of things that I would have ever bought at The Flea.

    • This post is interesting. Once again, you’ve provided no concrete information for people to get behind re: why this change makes it any worse for the consumer. We understand it eliminates money flowing to some people in between the city and the vendors, but again, we don’t understand why that’s a bad thing. If the best you can point to is a website that hasn’t been updated since June and a facebook page with 10k followers (which is not a number worth touting these days, FWIW) it’s hard to see what we’re losing here. I’d figure if anyone could make a compelling argument on behalf of the Flea it would be their Communications Director, but that is not the case. I live in the neighborhood and visit the flea market once a month or so, and I don’t hold a strong opinion on this issue, but I can say that nothing you wrote has moved me in your direction.

  • This is exactly the problem with our country today. The government is not serving and protecting the people that put them in power. They are thinking like and on behalf of greedy business people. What’s worse is that people have gotten so used to used to it they hardly see it when it’s happening. This is different from a case of gentrification taking out the old. The old in such cases is not thriving so the new replaces it. This is a thriving we’ll run operation being usurped by the men and women we elect and lay to protect us!

    • Wait, so the government is giving a no bid contract to someone to essentially rent public land, and the guys making a living doing that need to be protected? If you think DC will do a terrible job that’s one thing, but you’re furious these guys need to stop suckling the government teet? That’s just bizarre.

    • Blithe

      Let’s see if I’ve got this: You think the government should “protect us”. If, however, someone, by your unclear standards, is “not thriving” though, those people apparently don’t warrant government protection, because “the new replaces it”– which is okey dokey with you — even though you don’t like “greedy business people”.
      So does this mean that you only want the government to serve and protect those “new” folks who are “thriving”, since they, in your view, “put (the government officials) in power”? If I’m reading this correctly, to use your words, “this is exactly the problem with our country today” — the people who are already “thriving” thanks to special deals with the government get more support, while those “not thriving” get pushed out by the “new”.
      I don’t have an opinion on this situation, really. But I would think that people who are against what they view as government handouts , except in the occasional crisis, to give people — and apparently businesses — temporary assistance, would be in favor of the change. neighbor’s points make a lot of sense to me.

    • *PalmForehead*

      This flea market, a thriving operation run by business people on city property, isn’t being being protected by government officials because the job of city officials is to serve and protect and serve all DC citizens… not to serve a specific business, it’s owners, or provide city property to anyone at a discounted rate. Yes, let the city officials maximize revenue for the city while creating a good flea market. Give them some time to get it right as it took years to make the current flea market good.

  • This is ridiculous hyperbole and completely wrong. There are plenty of reasons to keep the market, but to give a job to a few guys who have been living off the fat of the land is not one. It’s possible the city would mismanage this, but if that’s the case someone should write a clear and logical argument about it and get rid of this nonsense. As evinced by the comments above this insanity completely turns people off to the cause.

  • This is what happens when the council member with the least competent staff becomes mayor…bad decisions and mismanagement ensure. Don’t be mad at the reaping you sowed.

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