Wednesday, April 20, 2016

fenton street market owner heads to colorado for a new start

the last Fenton Street Market (for now) in December. Photo by the author.
Over the past decade, you couldn't go far in Silver Spring without running into Megan Moriarty, community organizer and owner of outdoor craft bazaar Fenton Street Market. But in search of a new start and a new career, she headed to Colorado two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the market's got a new owner, but no word on when it'll return.

Moriarty grew up in Montgomery County, attending Sherwood High School and the University of Maryland at College Park, where she got a masters degree in urban planning. For much of the past decade, she's been one of a few young voices in the community, pushing to make Silver Spring more inclusive but also championing it through promoting local artists and business people.

She's been a organizer at IMPACT Silver Spring, served on the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, and was elected president of the East Silver Spring Civic Association. She even convinced both of her parents to move to downtown Silver Spring.

In 2011, Megan was a volunteer at the market when she bought it from founder Hannah McCann. Over the next four years, she added vendors, live performers, and community events. She also expanded into pop-up events like Holidaze, a month-long holiday market, and started Grant Avenue Market, an outdoor antiques market in Takoma Park.

Fenton Street Market was a success, drawing dozens of vendors and thousands of shoppers from across the region. But it was a challenge making it a great place to shop and hang out, Megan told me at her going-away party a few weeks ago.

Montgomery County, which manages the plaza and rents it out, was "very inefficient and hard to deal with," says Megan. "Their mission is to generate revenue for the county. That's a huge disconnect...renting out the plaza to the highest bidder is not placemaking."

A 2011 rent increase nearly killed the market, while county officials threatened to lease it to higher-paying uses like a putt-putt golf course. Meanwhile, there was tension with the Peterson Companies, which manages the adjacent Downtown Silver Spring complex.

Peterson officials told Megan her vendors couldn't block views of their shops across Ellsworth Drive, despite being a public street. But they weren't always receptive to shoppers' and community members' concerns about safety in the spaces they were responsible for. "Hare Krishnas, panhandlers, anyone asking for money," says Megan. "Nobody from Peterson or the county is there on weekends unless there's a big festival."

Frustration mounted. She began thinking about moving after her husband Jack Evans, a web designer, pitched the idea last fall. "Jack has been talking about it for like six months and I really resisted it," says Megan. "How could I go somewhere else? That's my whole life, my job, my world."

But Megan has deep roots in Boulder. Her mom grew up there, her grandparents and several other relatives live there, and she attended part of college at the University of Colorado. Eventually, she had a change of heart. "But why not go somewhere else?" she said. "I realized that when I resist something, that's my last gasp before I change my mind."

In December, Megan announced that the market wouldn't return to Veterans Plaza. And this spring, she sold the market to a group of four East Silver Spring residents, Caroline Joyce, Mike Mowery, Elizabeth Baer, and Daniel Eichner. The group are still figuring out when the market will return or where it will be.

"It seems like it's gonna be a good situation," says Moriarty. "They have a lot of young energy and excitement around Silver was Hannah's idea to have a market in Silver Spring. And that's what they're about: let's do some shit in our neighborhood and see what happens."

But don't expect her to recreate Fenton Street Market in the mountains. "I've actually been applying for government jobs with the city of Boulder," says Moriarty. "What I really want to do is be a private investigator. I couldn't do that in Silver Spring because everybody knows me."

Having often gone to Megan for local gossip, I'm not surprised when she says the new career path will serve her well. "I'm kinda nosy," she notes.

She acknowledges that Colorado is a lot more homogeneous (Boulder is 88% white, while Silver Spring is only 45% white). "One of the main things I'll miss is the diversity," she says. "I'm gonna miss it like a shit ton. Like a lot."

What else will she miss in Silver Spring? Megan names two local Ethiopian coffee shops where she could usually be found working on market stuff during the week. "Zed's and Kefa, top two for sure," she says. "Lene and Abeba (Tsegaye, owners of Kefa) and Zed, I always knew I would walk in those places if I felt like shit and get a real hug....they were awesome."


Casey A said...

I will miss her - she has contributed a great deal to what makes Silver Spring a great place to live.

Jonathan Bernstein said...

Thanks Dan. Did you know that the "under new management" @FentonStMarket will popup at this year's Taste the World in Fenton Village on May 15?!

Do hope we'll hear from Megan from time to time.


Reemberto Rodriguez, Sr. said...

This is a highly unfortunate one sided story. Megan is a wonderful civic entrepreneur - and a friend - and she will be missed greatly in Silver Spring. We wish her the absolute best in Colorado... A couple of factual corrections: We worked with her diligently every step of the way balancing competing agendas (and legal constraints -like 1st Amendment rights.) We may have had different opinion regarding what constitutes quality placenaking, but isn't that what makes Silver Spring unique? Our Civic Building folks, Peteron Co, and our Red Shirts will continue working together with civic entrepreneurs that choose to stay in Silver Spring to keep - and grow - this amazingly vibrant and diverse urban place.