It may be sterile, with its translucent white walls and rows of pristine stainless steel and glass display cases, but for the next 18 months the new “East Hall” at Eastern Market will be home.
Appearances aside, the vendors and regular shoppers were delighted with the reinforced tentlike temporary hall that officially opened for business yesterday.
“I can’t imagine a day more full of joy,” said Norman Metzger, who said he has been shopping at Eastern Market for the 30 years he has lived on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Metzger chatted with his wife, Nancy, and neighbors Matt Wade and Martha Huizenga at the grand opening, marveling at how quickly the $1.5 million structure was built.
It has been four months since a three-alarm fire gutted the South Hall of the 134-year-old brick Eastern Market building. Mr. and Mrs. Metzger said the spirit of family and community has inspired everyone.
City officials equipped the new hall with $1 million worth of food-storage equipment, enough to carry the poultry, fish and meat of all cuts, plus stacks of fresh produce peddled by the 14 vendors displaced after the April 30 fire.
Leon Calomiris, whose family has sold produce at the market since 1962, stopped briefly while he was weighing vegetables for customers to revel in his new surroundings.
“Unbelievable. I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
When the three-alarm blaze destroyed the South Hall, it “was like a death in the family,” Mr. Calomiris said.
But business was booming again yesterday, as a dreadlocked flutist played “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and other classical selections while shoppers perused jewelry, rugs, crafts and myriad food and drinks in the 90-plus degree afternoon heat.
Maygene Daniels, her daughter Leah Daniels and friend Mary McCue sold black “Rebuild Eastern Market” T-shirts from under a small white canopy beside the Seventh Street entrance to the new hall, which sits on part of a playground at Hine Junior High School.
“People are a walking advertisement of how much the market really means to them,” said Miss Daniels, who was born and raised in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and moved back after college to open a bookstore.
“My mother and I are doing this together,” she said.
The three women were volunteering with the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, which has raised $385,000 for the reconstruction of the South Hall, just feet away from the new structure shrouded in blue scaffolding. The renovation is expected to cost $25 million.
Vendors and shoppers will have to wait until January 2009 to move into the renovated structure, but the elation with the new site was evident.
Taped behind the Calomiris produce stand was a note, scribbled on a sheet of deli paper: “Thank You, Community, Mayor and Everyone!”