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D.C.'s Eastern Market to Reopen in Temporary Home

Vendors and others attended a May news conference marking the site of Eastern Market's reopening, across from the building damaged in April's fire.
Vendors and others attended a May news conference marking the site of Eastern Market's reopening, across from the building damaged in April's fire. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007

Maria Calomiris had worked as a fruit and vegetable vendor at Eastern Market for 44 years, until the Capitol Hill institution was badly damaged in an early morning fire in late April. When she heard the news, she was devastated.

"I thought we'd be on the streets forever," she said yesterday.

Calomiris, 68, was wrong. Yesterday, she and 13 fellow vendors stood in a massive white reinforced tent -- complete with new stoves, refrigerators, scales and cash registers -- that will be their home for two years, until the $25 million renovation of the market is completed.

The temporary Eastern Market will open for business tomorrow, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said at a news conference at the site, which is next to Hine Junior High School, across Seventh Street SE from the singed market building. Of the 15 tenants who were in the south hall of the market the day it burned, all but one has agreed to move into the new quarters.

Seven have signed leases with the D.C. government, City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said, and the other seven are expected to complete their deals by the weekend.

As part of the $25 million renovation project, the city paid $1.5 million to open the site, including $1 million in equipment that will be rented by the vendors and transferred to the market building when the repairs are finished, Tangherlini said.

After the mayor spoke yesterday, the vendors surrounded him. Calomiris put her arm around his waist. Juan Jose Canales, a deli owner, grabbed Fenty's hand with both of his and thanked him, emotion evident in his voice.

"Thanks from my family, from my 2 1/2 -year-old grandson and my two daughters," Canales said. Then he hugged the mayor.

"This is the most beautiful day in my life," said Canales, 57, who lives in Wheaton. "This mayor committed himself to restoring the market and getting our lives back together."

As he spoke, Canales was surrounded by workers installing the final pieces of equipment in the tent. Green-and-yellow banners for the vendors hung from the ceiling, with heating and air-conditioning units running along the walls. Tangherlini said those appliances will be transferred to the restored building in 2009.

By day's end, all that was left was to bring in the fish, meats, flowers and fruits -- and the customers.

Canales said that after the fire, "I thought that was the end of Eastern Market. But the mayor was here at six in the morning, and he committed to rebuild and restore our lives. In less than four months, it's happened. It's a miracle."

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