Coming Soon: Eastern Market Main Street

Community Input is Needed on July 26

Eastern Market. (Photo: Andrew Lightman)

*Note: The time of the meeting changed to 7 to 8:30 p.m. on July 26. 

Businesses in and around the Eastern Market community may gain access to city funds for a Main Street organization in the DC fiscal year 2017 budget. The proposed Eastern Market Main Street would include the area along Seventh Street SE from North Carolina SE to the Southeast Library (402 7th St. SE) and 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE to the 600 and 700 blocks of C Street SE. 

The new non-profit organization “Merchant Row Association, Inc.” (MRA), made up of about a dozen local business owners, has until Sept. 8 to apply for a Main Street designation from the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD), said Merchant Row Association Vice Chair Mary Quillian. Quillian and her family also own Mr. Henry’s Pub and Restaurant (601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE).

But first, the group needs input from community members starting at the July 26 meeting from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Lincoln Hall at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE). 

A Main Street designation allows for that group to then apply for city funds and grants to help attract and retain businesses; update building facades; host community events, like Barracks Row Main Street’s “Taste of the Eighth” and H Street Main Street’s “H Street Festival”; help new businesses buy quality signs; and any other events or ideas the community suggests.

It will also give the Eastern Market and surrounding merchants a chance to offer organized input on the renovation of the Eastern Market plaza, she said.

“It’s important for the businesses to be ready as a group to have input,” Quillian said. “That’s the central area of the Hill.”

Getting Funds in the FY2017 Budget

Business owners came together in December 2015 to start discussions on the group and then created the licensed non-profit to pursue the designation; Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson helped get the funding for Eastern Market Main Street into the FY2017 budget because the first round of the budget passed without the main street funds, Quillian said. It wasn’t until May that MRA and community leaders knew the funds would be available in 2017. Both the DC City Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser approved the earmarked funds.

“Now that the money has been earmarked for an Eastern Market Main Street, a group has to be identified and selected by DSLBD to get the designation,” she said. “The group [MRA] that worked this spring is intent on applying for the designation.”

MRA may know DSLBD’s decision as early as October, she said.

Other MRA leaders include Manuel Cortes, owner of Groovy DC Cards and Gifts (323 Seventh St. SE), Ann Richards and Terry McDonald, general manager at Scallan Properties.

In June, the dozen or so business owners with MRA started reaching out as quickly as possible to the community and setting up one-on-one conversations with the merchants in the area to get feedback on the proposed Main Street.

“We want the Eastern Market Main Street to be a community player, too,” Quillian said. “The organization is there to help preserve that area.”

MRA Needs Community Support

To get the designation from DSLBD, the community needs to show support for MRA as the organization to head the Main Street, said Cortes, who also chairs the MRA. This includes letters of support, neighbors attending community meeting and working with the business owners.

People seem excited so far, he said. He added that many like him feared a loss of local economy with the other growing neighborhoods and Main Streets in the city — DC has 10 designated Main Streets as of 2016. A Main Street could help boost a local draw to the businesses and reinvigorate the area.

DC’s 2015 Main Street program brought in about 1,250 jobs; helped start about 30 new businesses; supplied funds for about 30 rehabilitation projects; completed 18 public improvement projects; and completed 15 new construction projects, according to the DSLBD website. It focuses on fostering fresh economic activity in the designated areas.

That support is why Cortes spearheaded the idea and gathered his colleagues. And in July, MRA won the support of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B to apply for the Main Street designation.

“That’s the consensus that I’m getting,” Cortes said of the enthusiasm. “But there are so many little small details that we need to address.”

Quillian said she agrees they still need to gather a lot of community input, but she’s excited about the plan’s prospects.

“We want to make sure that area continues to be a vital commercial area that supports the community and is supported by the community,” she said.  

To learn more about Eastern Market Main Street or community meetings, visit www.easternmarketmainstreet.org.