News / Vancouver

Vancouver seeks new operators for DTES street markets

The city is seeking new operators for the Downtown Eastside’s legal street markets after the sudden resignation of its co-ordinators.

A woman peruses goods along the sidewalk on Carrall Street at the Downtown Eastside Street Market in April 2014.

Matt Desouza/Metro File

A woman peruses goods along the sidewalk on Carrall Street at the Downtown Eastside Street Market in April 2014.

The “For Sale” signs are up at the Downtown Eastside Street Market but it’s not second-hand goods that are being hawked.

The entire operation has been put on the block as the City of Vancouver seeks two non-profit organizations to take control of the low-barrier markets following the sudden resignations of its original co-ordinators, Roland Clarke and Jacek Lorek, in late January.

Current DTES Street Market Society board member Sarah Blyth, a former city parks board commissioner, told Metro a series of escalating disputes between the markets’ founders and city staff reached boiling point earlier this year and led to a change of leadership.

“It got to the point where you can’t move forward anymore because all the good relationships [with the city] had been lost,” Blyth said. “The co-ordinators took it a bit too far. They were to blame and because of that they made the decision to resign.”

There are few details that provide much insight into the insurmountable breakdown in trust between Clarke, Lorek and the city.

However, an email Clarke sent the city (cc’ed to media) Jan. 23 offers a peek.

Clarke wrote the level of funding offered by the city for 2016 was “completely inadequate” and threatened to cancel the Sunday market at Pigeon Park that week.

He resigned the next week and the city later awarded the Portland Hotel Society a temporary service contract to assume responsibility for the DTES street markets in the short-term.

Mary Clare Zak, managing director of social policy and projects at the City of Vancouver, told Metro on Thursday she wasn’t comfortable discussing the issues, if any, city staff had with Clarke and Lorek specifically.

She said the city maintains a good relationship with the society’s board but admitted the city “decided to take some steps” to ensure public funds were being looked after and for the markets to continue.

So late last month, the city put out a request for expressions of interest and is seeking a new organization, or two, to operate the markets.

The city contributes $200,000 annually to the markets (at 62 E. Hastings, 501 Powell and Pigeon Park on Sundays).

“It is a benefit to the community,” said Zak. “It provides people with low-barrier employment opportunities and has been recognized by senior levels of government as filling a niche that doesn’t exist anywhere else. In the big picture, as we work through a planning process for the Downtown Eastside, we need to recognize and acknowledge the informal economy.

Zak said the markets enjoy the support of local business improvement associations and the Vancouver police.

“Most people want to be working or doing something but barriers exist,” she said. “[The markets] allow people to earn some extra income and develop some skills.”

Some women have even been able to stay out of the sex trade because of the income they make selling wares at the markets, Zak said.

The city is even looking to export the street market model into other communities.

For example, Zak said there could be markets that showcase only female vendors or indigenous works.

For now, the DTES Street Market Society board and Portland Hotel Society are just trying to keep the current markets afloat.

“We’re putting things back together and we’re in a good place right now,” said Blyth. “Our volunteers are doing everything they can because you see how important the market is.”

The city’s request for expressions of interest for the DTES street markets closes March 24.

More on