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DC Calls Off Hostile Take Over Of Private Flea Market After Public Outrage

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The District of Columbia government has halted its plans to take over operations of the flea market at Eastern Market from a private management company after numerous citizen complaints.

Mike Berman, executive director of Diverse Markets Management, which operates the flea market, told The Daily Caller News Foundation he received a new two year contract from the city Tuesday to continue operating his flea market.

The Flea Market has been held Sundays in the Capitol Hill neighborhood outside the historic Eastern Market since 1984. It operated in a school yard across the street from Eastern Market for nearly 20 years, but two years ago, school officials planned for it to be demolished for new construction, and he was forced to move operations elsewhere.

Bernam signed a two-year agreement with the city that would allow him to operate his business on a closed off street. That agreement ended at the end of July. Berman signed a 30-day extension when that contract was up that would allow him to operate until September 30, after he had to close down operations on the city street.

Originally, officials from the D.C. government told Berman a municipal bond issue prevented the city from closing down a street for his private business to set up shop.

Municipal bonds finance the street where the market operates and, since municipal bonds can only be used for government functions, shutting the street down for use by private vendors such as Berman could negatively affect D.C’s bond rating, the city claimed.

Instead of Berman running the flea market, the city’s Department of General Services (DGS), which already runs the Eastern Market, would take over operations at the flea market as well.

Berman, not wanting to lose the business he spent 20 years building, inevitably fought back. He launched a Change.Org petition calling for the city to back off plans for the take over and, within days, had more than 600 signatures.

Not long after, on September 4, Berman received an email from Barry Margeson, a DGS employee who oversees the Eastern Market, that read:

“DGS, in consultation with the Mayor’s Office, has determined that the District will re-sign license agreements with the two entities currently serving as Flea Market Managers for the 300 block flea markets at Eastern Market. Their current licenses expire this month.”

It appeared that the Mayor’s Office intervened on behalf of Berman and his flea market management company.

“Apparently the mayor told her people to fix it,” Berman told TheDCNF.

Mike Czin, a spokesman for Mayor Muriel Bowser, said in an email that the city never planned to take over the flea market, but the mayor’s office was “working diligently with all parties to resolve any issues amicably.”

“To characterize it as ‘the city’s planned takeover of the flea market’ as you did below is a preposterous assertion,” he said.

Kenny Diggs, a spokesman for the DGS, also downplayed the city’s plans to handle operations at the flea market.

“It’s a non-issue. It’s just a matter that needed to be sorted out,” he said in a phone interview. “We sorted it out and everything will be the same as it was before.”

Berman, though, disagreed and said without the public outcry and media exposure, the city would have continued plans to take over the flea market.

“They can downplay it now, but without the media exposure, they would have just screwed us,” he said. “They basically couldn’t get away with it so they backtracked.”

To the city’s credit, though, Berman said they did deliver what they said they would in terms of a long-term contract.

Berman said he plans to sign a two-year extension to operate his flea market at its current location and doesn’t expect any issues when it comes time to renew.

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Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.