Melrose Market begins third year growing ‘organically’ on Capitol Hill

Melrose Market Panorama, originally uploaded by sea turtle.

This Sunday, Melrose Market will celebrate its second year as a Capitol Hill food, drink and locavore mecca with a street fair. We think. Truth is, where many neighborhood events — especially those driven by commercial entities — come with a barrage of marketing, sponsorship and messaging, Melrose’s street fair has only quietly been promoted at the market and here and there via online social media by the market’s vendors. It’s the same funky, local approach that has made the venture a success.

“It’s a great retail and restaurant establishment,” says Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, a partner behind the development and now the de facto manager of the market. “It just grew organically by having a really unique building.”

Other shopping destinations on the Hill have required a greater investment in branding. We reported earlier on this $15 million injection into the Broadway Market complex.

Melrose Market. on the other hand, is a smaller, quirkier venture — and 100% leased, Shapiro says. Meanwhile, its Twitter feed hasn’t been updated since October.

“This party means everybody has been open for two years,” Sheri Lavigne said. Her Calf & Kid cheese counter was originally destined for several other Capitol Hill locations. She’s glad the market worked out.

“It’s been thriving and growing,” she said. “We have tons and tons of dedicated customers that are in the neighborhood and also far away. We still have those people who have lived in the area forever and are just discovering us.”

Lavigne said that Sunday’s festival will be a major party with a beer garden and all sorts of great special items to eat. It also could be a sign of things to come for the community of market vendors and restaurants. Next summer — if the shops pull together and make it happen — could bring monthly or even weekly events.

“We’ve all seen a lot of growth especially in the past year,” Lavigne said. “There’s a really nice cohesive vibe.”

She also sees the definition of the Melrose Market expanding beyond the physical structure. On Sunday, nearby soon-to-open Mamnoon will be part of the celebration and including its Middle Eastern offerings in the fair. Don’t be surprised to see Mamnoon include “Melrose” in its marketing. UPDATE: Mamnoon informs us that, unfortunately, it won’t be able to participate Sunday due to heavy workload this week around the new construction and another event.

The Melrose vibe has spread around the corner, too, onto Pike. At a recent meeting of a group of business owners and community members from the area around Pike and Boren, the group discussed the benefits — and some potential drawbacks — from being more and more associated with the market. That group, by the way, refers to itself as the Melrose project. CHS made a too-witty reference to the affiliation with our recent “Melrose archipelago” headline for our update on the new Rumba rum bar slated to neighbor Tango.

Back on the main island, Shapiro says that architect Liz Dunn, credited by many for driving the Melrose Market vision, remains a part of the project and continues to have a financial stake  if not intimate involvement in the day to day operation of the market.

Lavigne said the community of merchants, instead, look to Sitka & Spruce’s Matt Dillon for leadership and guidance as they navigate the sometimes choppy waters of business.

“Sitka and Spruce has really taken the lead,” Lavigne said. “He’s a leader in general — when it comes to making awesome food things happen.”

Lavigne said that leadership also includes things like providing resources to coordinate the small amount of marketing the group does do.

Not everything is hunky dory at the Melrose Ave shopping center, however. Some merchants have worried this summer about a dip in the number of shoppers as parking pressures in the area have increased due to construction of an adjacent apartment building.

But development might also provide solutions. There is hope that the planned Melrose & Pine development across the street will preserve popular elements like Bauhaus but also — possibly — provide enough parking to help driving shoppers be more willing to venture to Melrose.

The Melrose Market Street Festival is Sunday, August 26 from 11a to 7p. More information about a busy weekend on Capitol Hill, here.

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