Monday, October 10, 2011

A contrast in markets

Washington City Paper describes the latest goings on at DC's Eastern Market:
Earlier this week, Councilmember Tommy Wells introduced legislation that would fundamentally alter the way Eastern Market operates. Pretty much everyone agrees that the change is necessary: Currently, the market is managed by the city, which can't respond quickly enough to funding and administrative needs that change day to day. Wells' bill would simply create a new governing board of community members and merchants, independent of the District, with the power to make key decisions. 
Nonetheless, the news sparked a micro-uproar. Merchants fretted to the Post that Wells' bill was meant to make the market into a more profitable enterprise, i.e., kick all the old-timers out and bring in Dean & DeLuca. The anxiety spilled over into a meeting Wednesday evening at the Market's north hall, where merchants and vendors worried aloud that the protections they had thought might be spelled out in the legislation were nowhere to be found.
In other words, politicians and politics -- rather than hard-nosed economic considerations -- ultimately dictate how the market is run. It's a recipe for mediocrity, which is pretty much what we've got. For those unfamiliar, here are some pictures of the market:

It's okay, but not great. While there is some good food to be had, it has never struck me as anything special or a must see attraction. In contrast, here are some pictures of the stunning Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, which is privately owned and operated (the only such type market in Spain):

Video of the market here.

The New York Times describes it:
The iron-and-glass Mercado opened in May 1916, a monument to modernism and new ideas on hygiene, reminiscent of Les Halles in Paris. Eventually all but abandoned, the building fell into disrepair. Restoration began after private investors bought the building in 2003. In a nod to living green, instead of air-conditioning, the air is infused with water droplets; every few minutes shoppers are bathed in a blast of micro-rain. 
...Despite beautiful new granite floors and a design-y feel, “our prices are better than the supermarket,” said Ms. Martín, the market’s publicist, “and our lettuce is much more beautiful.”
Beautiful design, great selection, bustling crowd -- and none of it interfered with politicians or using the taxpayer dime. Viva el sector privado! 

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