DC is the most gentrified city in the country. The benefits of that development, however, have been slow to reach east of the Anacostia River, home to the city’s 7th and 8th Wards. Mary Blackford knew that she and her neighbors had to either travel to other parts of the city for retail and food options or wait for gentrification. Instead, she started Market 7, a flea market that brought together Black businesses in a parking lot. Now Market 7 will be moving to a permanent location, inside of the new Benning Market food hall development.
Food halls are becoming plentiful across the Washington region but Benning Market food hall will be the first multiple-use market and eatery space east of the Anacostia River. Market 7 will lease the entire 7,000 square-foot ground floor for a community food hall and small grocery store. This is good news for the people of Ward 7. A recent survey revealed that over 80% of Ward 7 residents traveled elsewhere to shop for food and groceries. Market 7 has been partnering with local farmers and entrepreneurs to provide sorely needed food options, hosting more than 60 small businesses in the Ward 7 community through a series of pop-up markets. Now with the Benning Market development, the businesses Market 7 hosts will enjoy greater stability and a more viable path towards growth.
Mary Blackford’s inspiration for Market 7 came during her time as a student at Babson College in Massachusetts. She, along with other students, had the opportunity to teach an entrepreneurship course in Takoradi, a small fishing district of Ghana. While there she saw community members operating their own centralized market, which served as the hub of their community. Blackford knew that model could work in the Black community in Ward 7. No, she didn’t have a storefront but neither did the people in Ghana — a parking lot would do.
As Blackford told the Afro, “Ghana is like little hustle nation. People don’t get jobs, they start businesses. And so, what is so cool about the community is that they have a centralized market place. Although the community wasn’t rich it had its total autonomy and it owned everything around it because they provided everything they need themselves, so all-natural resources, all food, their clothing, all products you need you could get from this centralized market.” Market 7 is proving the point that we have all we need to sustain us. With a new home in the Benning Market food hall, Market 7 can operate seamlessly year-round and help a multitude of Black businesses grow.