In 2013, when local business owner June Lee went to visit one of many fashion warehouses in the outskirts of Washington D.C., she was greeted instead by the construction of Union Market, a planned tourist attraction that would house a number of artisanal restaurants. Today, developers hope that this sleek, modern complex will catapult Washington D.C.’s 5th street to elite the culinary status of Seattle’s Pike Place Market or New York’s Chelsea Market.
“I used to visit this area from time to time to stock my stores,” said Ms. Lee, who runs a series of fashion stores throughout the D.C. and greater Maryland region. “Recently, however, I’ve noticed a dramatic shift in the area due to the creation of Union Market. What used to be a collection of warehouses and a frankly underdeveloped area has now become a bustling center that feels young, hip, and exciting.”
This so-called “high-end oasis” was created in 2012 by developers Edens, who took a standard market building and modernized it with the help of Richie Brandenburg, a chef who used to work for José Andrés. When planning the complex, Mr. Brandenburg searched for inspiration from his previous experiences, identifying the vendors that Mr. Andrés’ restaurants used and bringing all of them together in one marketplace. Mr. Brandenburg’s effort to connect local vendors with customers has contributed to Union Market’s reputation as a “mix of eclectic foods and homegrown fare,” according to the Washington Post, furthering the local food movement and attracting local customers who have helped the complex triple its monthly sales since its inception.
“I will definitely try to visit Union Market more in the future,” said Sangrok Lee, another business owner who was also familiar with the area before its gentrification. “It can either be a good place to bring family out for dinner or for a quick lunch break on a workday. It also brings the feeling of a local farmer’s market to a more modern setting, which is really unique and interesting.”
According to Eater magazine, some notable attractions include a $20 Bloody Mary from Buffalo & Bergen, fresh oysters from the Rappahannock Oyster Bar, the Korean-style tacos at TaKorean, and the Red Apron (a meat lover’s dream). Shoppers who are looking to create their own meals can stop by Ah Love Oil & Vinegar for olive oil, Bazaar Spices for Aleppo peppers, or Righteous Cheese for some gouda. With Union Market’s rising status, notable chefs elsewhere have begun to take notice; this year, Stephen Starr of Le Diplomate announced that he will be adding a high-end steakhouse to the Market in the future.
These encouraging results have led to increased interest from local politicians as well. Just last week, it was announced that the D.C. Council would consider one of the city’s largest-ever TIF’s (tax increment financing) in order to support Union Market, which would provide the area an extra $82.4 million for infrastructure and parking improvements. With these investments, Union Market is likely to grow and flourish even more in the future, potentially adding yet another attraction to tourism-heavy Washington D.C.