Like the colorful, lemon-yellow dandelion, vulnerable to the city's changing climate yet stubbornly refusing to die, farmers markets are coming back in Washington, hardier than ever.
Silenced 11 years ago, the O Street Market, between Seventh and Ninth streets NW, is scheduled to reopen Dec. 11. The market, closed after it was looted and vandalized during the 1968 riots, is owned by developer James Adkins.
The municipally-owned Georgetown Market, first opened 114 years ago at 3276 M St. NW, is expected to reopen in March. Financial problems closed the market in the 1940s.
Amid an atmosphere of European chic, the Georgetown market will sell fresh produce, meats and specialty items in the renovated, two-level indoor market. The first floor will contain about 15 stalls and the mezzanine will be leased to a restaurant, according to Courtney Lord, vice president of leasing for the Western Development Corporation.
The Georgetown firm is restoring the market at a cost of more than $1.7 million, Lord said, of which more than $1 million is being supplied by Western Development. The remainder is being provided by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration.
In good weather, about 20 canopied, outdoor stalls will also be open to vendors, he said.
For effect, "we're encouraging the use of baskets, crates, old wooden freezers, hanging salami -- whatever's allowable by health code," Lord said. "We're attempting to make it look like it's been there since the 1800s."
Intrigued with preserving the area's history and quaintness," Lord said, the firm is also developing Georgetown Park, a Victorian-style shopping center to be located in a building next door to the market.
There are similarities between the Georgetown and O Street markets. Both are designated landmarks. Both are more than 100 years old. They have retained their historical names. But while the Georgetown Market is trying to preserve its history and quaintness, the O Street Market is "building for the future," Adkins said.
During its heyday, the crowded, bustling O Street Market was a rundown, southern community center, catering to a mostly black clientele, he said. Thirty-five vendors worked inside the market. Many others had outside stands.
Plagued by overcrowding and health code violations, the market began to decline and closed after the riots.
In 1977, Adkins purchased the market and the block surrounding it. In addition to the stall market, he has built an inner-city mall which includes a Giant supermarket, a bank and a pharmacy.
Pointing to the 24-hour Giant, the first supermarket built in the District in 11 years, Adkins recalled how critics told him that "Giant would never come back here."
A few of the old vendors will return to the market, Adkins said, along with several vendors he has wooed away from the exclusive White Flint Shopping Mall in Montgomery County. A dairy producer will bring in eggs from Gettysburg, Pa., and other businesses are relocating from the South.
To cater to the needs of the affluent -- mostly white -- homeowners moving into Shaw, Adkins said he has also diversified services at the market "to accommodate the changing area." The new, streamlined market will hold a dozen indoor stalls and about 20 canopied, outdoor stalls, he said. At night, a rainbow of floodlights will illuminate the attic windows of the building.
Seven days a week, shoppers can purchase everything from fresh produce and meats to souvenirs, imported wines, cheese and fried chicken at a "Chicken George" carry-out, he said.
"Many of the oldtimers want to come back, but they have to pay their way," Adkins said simply.
His firm, Adkins Enterprises -- consisting of Adkins, his wife and brother -- have $200,000 of the family's funds tied up in the $4 million O Street mall project, he said. Adkins added that the mall is being financed through loans of $4 million from the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administraton and Prudential Life Insurance Company. Nearly $2 million has been invested in the market alone, he said.
In explaining the growing resurgence of the markets, both Adkins and Lord said shoppers are attracted to the markets because they seek personal service and a nostalgic setting.
Too often personal service is "lost in the suburbs and Safeway stores," Lord said, but the Georgetown market will attempt to recapture "some of the lost character of the inner-city downtown areas."
"By popular demand the markets are coming back," Adkins added.
Monthly rentals for indoor stalls at the O Street Market will bring more than $2,000 a month, Adkins said. Outdoor stalls will rent for between $15 and $20 a day.
In comparison, the indoor stalls at the Georgetown Market will rent "from $500 a month on up," said Lord. Outdoor stalls will rent for $10 or more a day, he said.
At the Eastern Market and Fish Wharf -- two of the three city-owned markets -- monthly outdoor rental rates have been established by law, said Donald Croll, chief of the real estate division of the General Services Department. The maximum is 20 cents a day, Croll said, and the Eastern Market still abides by the prices. At the wharf, fishermen are charged $2 to $4 a day, he said.