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A dispute over direction upsets plans for D.C.’s popular holiday market

Patricia Buxton, a candlemaker, recently received an email inviting her to apply to sell her merchandise at D.C.’s annual Downtown Holiday Market, a popular outdoor event where her past patrons have included Vice President Harris.

Two hours after getting the notice from the market manager, a man she had been dealing with since 2021, Buxton received a second invitation to apply for a booth at the same market — this one from a company she did not know. “I thought it was a scam,” she said.

Unbeknownst to Buxton and other vendors, the management of the market had become the focus of an intense struggle between its longtime operator, Diverse Markets Management, and the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, the nonprofit organization that co-produces the event.

“It feels like two parents are getting divorced and the kids have to pick a side,” Buxton said. “I’m so confused.”

The holiday market typically runs from mid-November until just before Christmas, drawing tens of thousands of shoppers to a two-block stretch of F Street NW outside the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Exhibitors sell everything from original works of art to photography to crafts and antique maps. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) cut the ribbon to open the 2023 market.

The market’s importance as a regional attraction has grown in recent years as downtown seeks to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, which emptied office buildings and hurt foot traffic at restaurants and shops.

Diverse Markets Management is a local company that has overseen the market since its 2005 inception, leasing booths to 70 or so vendors, supervising day-to-day operations and acquiring the permits to close the streets.

For the first time this year, DowntownDC BID decided to hold a competition to determine who would oversee the festival, a contest that Diverse Markets Management lost to the Makers Show, a company that puts on markets in Boston and Brooklyn.

Michael Berman, president of Diverse Markets Management, is refusing to relinquish control of the market. He said in an interview that he is in the process of getting the necessary permits for the event and contacting prospective vendors. On Thursday, his attorney, Bryan Latham, wrote a letter to the BID demanding that it not contact anyone from Berman’s vendor list.

Gerren Price, DowntownDC’s president, said in written responses to questions from The Washington Post that the BID decided to hold the competition to manage the market because of what he described as “community and stakeholder feedback around the declining quality” of the market.

Price said the BID chose the Makers Show because the company plans to expand the market’s size while offering “a reduced cost to rent booths.” He said the Makers Show “is bringing in a new comprehensive holiday market strategy that will enhance the market.”

Asked to specify the amount in rent reductions, Sarah Epelman of BerlinRosen, a…

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