Washington DC

Downtown DC holiday market: Why its future is up in the air

D.C.'s annual Downtown Holiday Market is in controversy amid management disputes

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For nearly 20 years, the Downtown Holiday Market has been a cherished D.C. tradition. The market, which brings together arts-and-crafts merchants, musicians and food vendors, has transformed the streets near Capital One Arena every year for only 30 days, drawing tens of thousands of holiday shoppers. 

The market has become especially important in recent years as downtown D.C. looks to recover after the pandemic, when empty office buildings and apartments hurt many local businesses. 

However, this year, the future of the market is in jeopardy because of a dispute over its management. Michael Berman, president of Diverse Markets Management, the company that has co-produced the event since its inception with the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), is at the center of the controversy. 

In April, the BID informed Berman that they were switching to an out-of-state company to manage the market this year. 

“It’s devastating to my company," Berman said. "Devastating to my employees and to the vendors that run this event."

The new management company, Makers Show, is a Brooklyn, New York, company that specializes in holiday markets. The company plans to enhance and expand the market while also lowering prices for vendors. 

Despite the BID’s decision, Berman said the BID does not control the market. In May, he secured street-closure permits from the city and paid the $28,000 fee, beginning preparations for this year’s market, which he had already advertised on the market’s website. 

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Two weeks later, the city revoked his permits without explanation and has yet to refund his $28,000, he said.

“Suddenly that permit was revoked and DDOT has yet to explain," Berman said.  

Gerren Price, the president of the Downtown D.C. BID declined to answer specific questions but gave a written statement:

“DowntownDC BID is now partnering with one of the nation's leading market operators to significantly expand and diversify this year's DowntownDC Holiday Market. As part of the new strategy to offer more local businesses a chance to participate and make the market as diverse as possible."

Price told The Washington Post that the change in management came in response to complaints about the declining quality of the event. Berman is hoping the BID and D.C. officials will reconsider. He said he also is considering starting a new holiday market to compete with the one he started nearly two decades ago. 

Berman said he has not ruled out taking legal action to resolve the issue. 

"It's tough to walk away and have that [the market] stolen and watch them give all that value to somebody else to start fresh with," said Berman.

News4 reached out to the D.C. Department of Transportation, which issued and then revoked Berman’s street closure permits. DDOT shared this statement:

"One District Department of Transportation (DDOT) goal as spelled out in moveDC, DC's long-range transportation plan, is for public space to be designed and managed to be people-focused, promoting livability and public health by improving accessibility, sustainability, safety, and placemaking.  In managing and overseeing, we require all permit applications for any public space activation to be accurate and up to date. If an approved permit application is found to have incorrect information or oversights, DDOT has the ability to revoke the permit. In this situation, an insurance clarification was rectified, and the permit was approved. However, we discovered a separate oversight that was not corrected by the contractor. DDOT is reviewing its procedures to avoid this in the future. All permit fees are reimbursed within 30 days of permit revocation."

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