“Part of it is shopping, part of it is eating — part of it is about people, and the discovery of something new,” says Jennifer Maguire Isham as she leads me through Union Market in Washington, D.C., where she is the director of brand and strategy. Maguire Isham has a boundless enthusiasm for each and every vendor and person within the market’s walls, and beyond into the surrounding district.
Union Market will celebrate its fifth anniversary this fall, although its history stretches back much further. The revitalized market, launched by EDENS, is located at the same site as the original Union Terminal Market, which opened in 1931. Union Terminal replaced Centre Market, which had been open since 1871, but was torn down to make way for the National Archives.
Today, Union Market is a thriving, bustling hub with 48 vendors — half of which are women-owned — serving up all sorts of delicious local food and drink, or selling other goods, bringing personal passion projects to the world.
“It’s all about food, but also about businesses and best practices,” explains Maguire Isham. As such, the market hosts pop-up vendors, some of whom end up as permanent installations. Meanwhile, with the Launch Pad series, small businesses pitch their concept to a team of culinary luminaries in the city, earning the right to become full-time vendors.
“You have an idea for Union Market? OK, we’ll back it,” says Maguire Isham. Arepa Zone was the winner of the July 2015 finale and is now one of the busiest food vendors in the market.
As Union Market has been reborn, the entire surrounding neighborhood, dubbed the Union Market District, has also come to life, with everything from Michelin-starred restaurant Masseria, to rum distillery Cotton & Reed. At Lab 1270, D.C. retailers and makers showcase their wares alongside goods from West Elm, while the Maurice Electrical building serves as an incubator office. Dock 5 hosts an array of large scale events — for instance, The Roots notably held a concert there last year in conjunction with Martell Cognac — while the Angelika Pop-Up screens films and showcases other unique arts events.
It’s a diverse collection of people and businesses, all of whom have managed to collectively turn the market into something far greater than the sum of their parts — a true community centerpiece. “Retail is changing,” says Maguire Isham, with an increasing focus on social and communal aspects for both shoppers and business owners alike. “Everyone helps everyone and it sounds naive and crazy, but it actually works here. There’s an age diversity and an income diversity here, but everyone gets along.”
There is something for everyone within Union Market. Plan to spend at least a few hours on your first visit to give yourself ample time, and stomach space, to indulge and explore. Union Market is open each week from Tuesday to Sunday. Visit UnionMarketDC.com for a schedule of upcoming events, and more information on the market and all of its associated ventures.
Browse the gallery above for a tasting tour, and see more market tours below.