Historic Eastern Market Reopens: Faith, Family, and €Friends€ Sustained Market Poultry Owner through the Fire

Michael P. Moss | 7/8/2009, 8:30 p.m.

Melvin Inman, Sr., owner of Market Poultry at Eastern Market, remembers the fire like it happened yesterday. At about 3 a.m., the phone rang. Roy Collison, from the Union Meat Company, another market vendor, was on the other end.

€Mel you need to get down here,€ Collison, 34, said, €the market€s burning down.€ Inman said he thought that his family was about to lose what it had taken him more than 30 years to build. He and his wife, Beverly, immediately got dressed.

During the drive into the District from their home in Clinton, Md., Inman, 57, said that he and his wife €sang songs of praise.€ By the time they reached Eastern Market, at 7th and North Carolina Avenue in Southeast, their worries had vanished.

€I decided to trust the will of God,€ Inman recalled.

He said that he looked up at the burning building, and prayed €for the safety of the men and women who were risking their lives€ to battle the three-alarm blaze.

His prayers were answered €" no one was seriously injured. Although everything inside the historic market was destroyed, the red, brick structure was salvaged. While the origin of the fire is officially classified as €undetermined,€ fire investigators have since suggested that it was deliberately set.

That was April 30, 2007.

More than two years later, on Fri., June 26, District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty presided over the grand re-opening of Eastern Market in an elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony. Built in 1873, the first of a larger, city-owned market system, Fenty spoke of €Eastern Market€s unique place in the District€s history.€ Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), one of Inman€s €favorite customers,€ attended the event along with members of the D.C. Council.

Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) lauded the $22 million project as an €extraordinary symbol of making government work.€ Long overdue for a facelift, Eastern Market received a few nips and tucks in the 1970s, however, the building€s new look now includes a new roof, additional lighting, air conditioning, ramps for the disabled, areas for arts and cultural events, and new bathroom facilities. D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray (D) called it a €phoenix rising from the ashes.€

As hundreds waited outside for the perfunctory speeches to end, in the South Hall Inman had reclaimed Market Poultry€s location along-side the 13 other original Eastern Market vendors. After the fire, they had temporarily occupied make-shift accommodations across 7th Street near Hine Junior High School.

When the doors opened, Inman found himself surrounded by familiar faces €" customers who he described as being €more like friends,€ Inman said. The jovial poultry man knows many of them by name.

€I love people,€ he said.

The relationships that he has cultivated over the years are, €the highlight of my work,€ he said. Inman admits that he is particularly fond of €the little old ladies who won€t let anybody else cut up their chickens.€

Behind the counter, Inman and his employees worked frantically to fill orders for the free range chicken and other fresh fowl Market Poultry is known for during the grand re-opening.

€This is like a homecoming,€ said a jubilant James Johnson as he waited in line to place his order. Johnson€s sentiments, if not his words, were shared by many.

Eastern Market Poultry Owner Mel Inman is all smiles at the number of customers on hand for the re-opening of the historic Eastern Market in Southeast. Photo by Victor Holt
Reginald Payne, a frequent patron of Eastern Market during the 17-years he lived on 10th Street on Capitol Hill in Southeast, but who now lives in Ward 8, made the trip across town €just to see Mel.€

Family plays a big part in Inman€s professional life too, Inman said. He works side-by- side with his son Melvin, Jr., 35. Inman said he made working with him a €chore€ for his children, €not an option.€ He said that he believed it €instilled values€ and €helped them understand the importance of work.€ His wife and other family members also help out when needed, he said.

Inman said that it€s amazing how far Eastern Market has come in just two years since the fire and succinctly summed up his life.

€God has blessed me.€