Locals Have Much More Than Money Invested in This Market's Recovery

By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hundreds of visitors, all eager for a first glimpse of Capitol Hill's renovated Eastern Market, waited in line for almost an hour yesterday for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to cut the royal-blue ribbon that officially opened the $22 million project to the public.

After squeezing through the double doors, the visitors, many of whom live in the neighborhood and wanted to see what had changed, took time to study the meats, smell the flowers and sample the food. And as they had done in the days before a fire ravaged the market and forced its vendors into a temporary home, the regulars formed a long line to wait for the market's famous crab cakes.

"This is literally the phoenix rising from the ashes," D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said at the ceremony. "It is a rallying point across the District of Columbia."

After the April 30, 2007, fire ravaged the popular market at Seventh and C streets SE, the city pledged to rebuild it. Yesterday, the dozen or so original vendors reoccupied their stations. Most of the redesign attempted to re-create the look and feel of the building when it opened in 1873. Salmon-colored walls and large windows brightened what customers remembered as a dreary building with dirty walls.

In some parts of the market, jazz intermingled with the laughs and chatter of the customers.

Maurice Walters and his wife, Mary Jean Pajak, both architects, live near the market. They said they moved to the Capitol Hill neighborhood in 1986 after discovering the market. "We just walked up and had crab cakes and said we want to move here," Pajak said.

"They didn't change the character," she said of the renovated building. "I like the paint because before it was a dirty beige."

The building's lighting, air conditioning and bathrooms were also appreciated by the regulars.

Hattie Richard, 71, has been shopping at Eastern Market since she moved to the District in 1956. "I think everything is just fantastic," she said. "It's much better. It's much cooler. Before, I would be so hot. I love it."

Melissa Welch, 32, had shopped in the temporary market but never in the old building. "It's incredible," she said. "I'm really impressed. It really surpassed my expectations. It's gorgeous. They've done a phenomenal job."

Raiford Gaffney has been a market customer for 40 years. After moving to the area to attend the University of Maryland, Gaffney said she fell in love with the market's variety. Fifteen years ago, the retired federal employee decided to move to the Capitol Hill neighborhood. She said the market is a great way to interact with neighbors while enjoying great food.

"This market is the heart of the Hill," she said. "In America, we don't remember having a butcher or a local store like in Europe, but this is very much a community place."

This summer, she said, she plans to barbecue some of the various fresh meats sold by market butchers. "I'll certainly come here more often," she said.

Ten kids from Alexandria Country Day School's camp took a 45-minute Metro trip to the market. The group of elementary and middle school students stood admiring the new building, hot dogs and drinks in hand.

"It's amazing that they put this all together," said Mila Lubeck, 9, of Lorton. "It feels refreshing. I like the color. It's bright with a lot of windows. It makes you feel open."

Fellow camper Charlotte Cooke, 7, of Arlington County, agreed. "I really like how they built it," she said. "I think everyone should come and have some fun and eat stuff."

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