When he was a boy, Charles Glasgow Jr. used to roller skate through the vast expanse of the Eastern Market while visiting the seafood and meat stands owned by his father and uncle.
"Nobody wanted the property," he recalled. "It was in pretty bad shape, and we practically had the whole place to ourselves."
But 35 years later, all 12 stalls in the market are rented, the vendors bring in more than $2 million a year, and the city has proposed a $3.8 million renovation that could triple the number of vendors inside. If anything, Glasgow fears his old playground is attracting too much attention.
"Every other market they've touched in Washington has either closed or is a disaster," he said yesterday, his voice clipped and resentful. "And now they want to ruin this one, too."
Halfway down the aisle, Chris Calomiris doesn't see it that way. Calomiris, who has been weighing produce at the Seventh Street SE market since he moved his father's greengrocer stand there 23 years ago, says business at the 116-year-old market "is definitely going downhill. Something has to be done."
The difference of opinion between the two merchants is representative of the debate that has emerged in the Capitol Hill neighborhood since a committee appointed by Mayor Marion Barry issued a report last month calling for major changes in the market's form and function.
The Eastern Market Planning Committee, after 18 months of study, recommended tripling the number of food vendors, creating a mezzanine area for dining, building a new stage for live performances, increasing the varieties of goods sold and allowing the sale of beer and wine.
The plans are the most extensive of six redevelopment options considered by the committee. Other options include simply bringing the market up to existing safety and building standards, and building either the mezzanine or an additional floor for the stage.
This week a group of area residents issued a 41-page critique of the committee's findings. The Citizens Committee for Eastern Market said the proposed changes would turn the market into a high-priced regional attraction.
The group favors instead preserving the market as a neighborhood facility while bringing it in line with city safety and building codes.
"There are already enough restaurants and good bars in this neighborhood and exciting, fun places in this city," said Roberta Weiner, a member of the citizens committee. "To try to turn the market into something it's not is completely unnecessary . . . . This is not a tourist attraction."
The residents' group supports a "modest" increase in the number of vendors and the creation of additional floor space by moving a storage area into the market's basement.
The group said that the cost of the development would double the existing vendors' rents, forcing them to raise prices, while the competition generated by the additional vendors would cut their profits, forcing them out of business. Besides the 12 permanent merchants, the Eastern Market is already host on Saturday to dozens of area truck farmers and crafts vendors.
Peter Eveleth, a member of the mayor's committee and a resident of the area adjacent to the market, said the committee was not trying to change the character of the market and is committed to preserving it for the neighborhood's use. He said the committee recommended the most extensive of its six options because it would be the most successful at making the market economically viable.
He said the source of funding for the redevelopment has not been determined but that members of the mayor's committee assumed that some portion of the costs would be provided by a private developer with the city footing most of the bill, perhaps through the sale of industrial revenue bonds.
Another major issue is the lack of adequate parking. Calomiris and Glasgow blame the scarcity of parking spaces around the market for the dropoff in business over the past several years. Weiner said any redevelopment plan will have to contain a specific parking provision before the neighbors will endorse it.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commission representing the Eastern Market area is scheduled to meet tonight and is expected to endorse the recommendations of the citizens group. The public has until Monday to comment on the Eastern Market plan. Eveleth said the committee will then consider the comments and incorporate them into a new report to be submitted to Mayor Barry