Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Florida Market tour recap

Chicken Parts (Kang's Farms)If the cherry is supposed to become the Official Fruit of the City of Washington, how about the Chicken as the State Bird? Sign at Kang's Farms, Florida Market area.

In the spirit of today's screed about cherries as the official fruit of the City of Washington, to demonstrate the link between food production and distribution, on Saturday, a group of us toured parts of the Florida Market area.

We did two tours, covering different sections. On the second tour, which had a different itinerary from the morning, we decided to double back and hit Obeng and Sam Wang's Produce. I suspect in the future we will do one tour, about 3 hours in length and cover some stuff a little more quickly. As usual, it was a good time. We will be doing tours in June, July, and probably August, and we'll put out notice about the particulars soon.

Interestingly enough, almost no tour attendees were "generated" by the blog. Attendees derived from listserv mentions (H-DC, HistoricWashington, Bloomingdale, Eckington) and/or personal connections.

One of the listservs bristled about us as interlopers trying to muck things up. This happened because in response to the posting, the Ward 5 Neighborhood Services Coordinator offered to bring some inspection personnel (note to people who understand displacement--serious and persistent code enforcement can be a technique used to foster "change"), which isn't something that Elise and I were interested in at all.

TrashSomething like this might work up people from DCRA and the sanitation people in DPW. But they were actually in the process of dumping a lot of "trash," and for trash, it actually smelled pretty good...

We started at Young's Deli, which is one of the only places around where I can get decent Korean food. Mr. Young always remembers me because I order Yook Gae Jung, which is the hottest dish they offer. One of the tour attendees didn't want her kimchee, so I scored double. Mr. Young sat and talked with us a bit. He is familiar with the history of the market, and its start by Greeks and Italians. People on the tour asked us if the city helped create the market back then. To be honest, I don't know.
Miss Young demonstrating how to prepare Bi Bim Bab at Young's Deli on the 300 block of Morse StreetThe daughter of the proprietors of Young's Deli demonstrates how to prepare Bi Bim Bab at Young's Deli on the 300 block of Morse Street.

A couple places we went to I hadn't really explored. (We distributed the map, that appeared with the 5/2/2006 article in the Washington Post about the market.) Elise wrote a bit about the market today, here. Obeng's was a blast, with African music playing, but not too loud, and a full house...
John Obeng, showing off to his employees his picture in the Washington PostJohn Obeng, showing off to his employees his picture in the Washington Post.

Mrs. Obeng, Obeng International FoodsMrs. Obeng behind the counter.

At Obeng InternationalPatrons at Obeng International.

These people come to the market about every two weeks. They live in Maryland. The young lady in the pink top noticed us at another store and wondered if I had taken her picture there. Since only her sleeve showed in that picture, she was eager for a better portrayal. She's from Cameroon.
Going home with the groceriesWalking home with her purchases.

All kinds of Dals, Caribbean CrescentThe store owner at Caribbean Crescent was eager to show off his products, especially his dals. While this store is called "Caribbean Crescent," it has a huge section of Indian food products.

Wholesale Only
Many places still are only open to wholesale customers. And in response to a question, I think one of the reasons that retail sales started at many of the places is because DC doesn't charge sales tax on most food purchases. So it isn't that hard to sell. No real extra paperwork required.

Finally, in the afternoon, people bugged out after "Mexican Fruit," so Elise and I took the opportunity to check out a store on 6th Street NE that we suspected was open to the public, and in fact it is.

Joe Njiaju, Owner, All African Food Store, 1325-D 6th Street NEJoe Njiaju, Owner, All African Food Store, 1325-D 6th Street NE. This store's retail operation was missed by the Post...

Mr. Njiaju told us that in the last 24 hours he had sold 13 goats (at $200 each) and that the meat is freshly butchered. (I took a photo of the butchering operation, but it didn't come out very well.) We talked for quite a bit. He read the March Post article about the possible redevelopment of the market. He said he has owned the business for 9 months and he is concerned about further investment, given the uncertainty. In the meantime though, he wants your business. The store is full of spices, African yams, and other good things, including a meat case and a fresh butchering operation, including goat. Good prices too!

Goat at the All African Food StoreGoat at the All African Food Store.

One of the problems with the market area is "marketing," the issues are similar to the difficulties that Main Street commercial district revitalization programs have in working with very independent proprietors.

For example, Litteri's closes at 3 pm on Saturdays, when they should be open later. We saw many people come up and pull the doors only to discover they were locked. (Apparently there is a secret knock code for wholesale customers so they can get in between 3 and 4 pm on Saturday, but I am not part of the club.)

Still, a cafe connected to Litteri's, and some upscale "Fante's" action (imagine Best Equipment + Sur la Table), similar to some of the places in the Italian Market, and the place would get a bit of glitz along with the grit.

Last year, I happened to be at the Italian market in Philadelphia when it was the weekend of the "Italian Festival." (Sorrento Cheese seems to be a big sponsor of such events in Little Italys across the country, such as Manhattan, and I presume Baltimore.)

But because the Florida Market is really a wholesale type of place, it would be difficult to accommodate such a festival although I think it could be done on the 500 block of Morse Street and in the area around the DC Farmers Market building. But apparently this kind of difficulty isn't unusual, apparently Philly's Italian Market festival was on hiatus for about five years, according to this article, "Italian Market Festival Returns," from the Philadelphia City Paper.

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