Eastern Market’s Humdrum Decline

a night time shot of the market.

By Nathan Easington Howard University News Service

Slow and surely.

After decades of the Eastern Flea Market being the ideal spot for all southeast D.C. residents to get custom painting, photos, clothes and other knick-knacks; now the market is at the tail-end of its popularity and is a shell of what it once was.  

“It used to be a warm and welcoming place and somewhere to meet new people from the world,” said Genevieve Adams, a registered nurse and vendor at the market since 1996.  “Now, it seems each week there are less vendors and fewer customers,” said Adams.

Started in 1984 by photographer and collector Tom Rall, the market was first used as a vehicle for artists to get their work to the public. Within three years of opening, the market was hosting vendors from five neighboring states and five countries according to the website and longtime shop owners. The market’s popularity along with the kinds of items offered, lead to it being rated the second best flea market in the world (for the diversity of vendors) in a Huffington Post poll.

The Eastern Market neighborhood is made up of quaint D.C. townhouses just a few blocks west of Capitol Hill.  While the surrounding neighborhood is unwavering in their attempts to help the market’s popularity. The vendors have also added a petition on the Market’s website to help raise awareness on the markets declining popularity and financial stability.      

“It was never an overnight issue, the markets popularity has slowly been on the decline, and even in the last year it is hard to see a difference, but if you look at ten years ago and now, the difference is night and day,” said Paul Barnett, a carpenter and 12-year vendor.

While much of what is offered at the market are specialty items that are crafted by the vendors, Amazon and other online shopping platforms have been helped decrease the amount of foot traffic that the market and normal store fronts usually see.  

However, despite seeing a saddening decrease in the quality of the market, some D.C. residents still cite favorable memories from the market’s better days.    

“I haven’t been in a long time, but when I used to go, I loved talking to the vendors and hearing about where they were from and the origins of their items,” said Lindia Rice.  

Although the Eastern Flea Market is struggling to keep its position as an icon of the area and the city, it still has a clear important historical and emotional relevance to the surrounding neighborhood.