Wednesday, July 24, 2024
Shoppers flock to Salmagundi hats in December at the Design Hive fashion market at Cambridge's Maria L. Baldwin School. A rent increase on Design Hive is likely to force it out. (Photo courtesy: Val Fox)

Shoppers flock to Salmagundi hats in December at the Design Hive fashion market at Cambridge’s Maria L. Baldwin School. A rent increase on Design Hive is likely to force it out. (Photo courtesy: Val Fox)

The frugally fashionable have been attending Design Hive for more than a year, stopping at the Maria L. Baldwin School weekly and then monthly since November 2008 to snap up handmade designer wares.

A sudden rise in rent is forcing the event to move or possibly end, though, unseating dozens of vendors and hundreds of shoppers after the final market of the year, Dec. 6.

“I won’t be able to use the school next year at that rate. At that rate, I can no longer afford to hold the event,” said Val Fox, the Cambridge marketer who created and runs Design Hive.

Fox and her landlord — Cambridge Public Schools — agree, sort of, on what that rate is. After much clarification, the schools’ public information officer, Justin T. Martin, indicated Design Hive’s rent had been raised to $50 per hour from $10 for use of the school’s space, after the School Committee raised rates to $10 per hour from $5 over the summer.

In addition, Design Hive must pay for setup and cleanup time before and after the event itself, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and to have janitors on hand for between $35 and $39 per hour (at time-and-a-half rates for working Sunday). To Martin, that means nine hours at $50 and one janitor for up to another $78, a total of $528.

Fox’s experience over the past year has been different. While her events last seven hours, she’s charged for 12, and the janitors are around for the duration doing other work and reachable by cell phone if they’re needed. “They’re working on projects on my dime for the school. I didn’t argue with that when it was $5 per hour,” she said. “At this point, I feel like I’m subsidizing the school.”

Fox’s total bill for a day is at least $1,068, about double what she was paying only two months ago.

Martin said a mistake was made when Design Hive launched in November 2008 and Fox was charged a resident rate. As of this fall, she’s being charged a nonresident rate for running the event, he said.

But Fox said she lives in Cambridge and that Design Hive, as a business, has been based on Columbia Street in Cambridge for two years. She was also told by Dana Ham, the school system’s director of facilities and support, that her residency was not what decided Design Hive’s rent. “That’s not what they shared with me at all,” she said. “They asked me about the people selling and the audience — if I could prove a majority of them were Cambridge residents.”

She did gather information about Cambridge residents’ participation in Design Hive, including the eighth-graders’ bake sale that benefits from the 500 or so shoppers per month. On any given week, about half of the people at Design Hive are from Cambridge, she estimated.

But it didn’t matter when it seemed her residence was the issue. “They seem to have rules that sort of shift and change from week to week,” Fox said.

The school system’s chief operating officer, Jim Maloney, explained Tuesday why it might seem that way: Residency is one test, and whether a renter is engaged in a profit-making enterprise is another. A Cambridge resident who would be charged $10 per hour for use of school property would still be charged $50 per hour, like a nonresident, when it was found they were using the property for a for-profit business.

Another test is whether the renter of school property is subleasing that property to others, such as Fox is doing with Design Hive vendors, Maloney said.

He described a school system increasingly unhappy with leasing out its space and looking to raise rents again — almost, it seems, to discourage the many, many renters. Youth soccer, neighborhood groups, clubs needing rooms, churches needing auditoriums.

“We recognize we’ve been subsidizing wear and tear on our property by outside users,” Maloney said. “And you can imagine the energy costs.”

But this has been related only indirectly to Fox.

The bad communication began immediately, Fox said, with no letter or call of explanation from Ham, just an invoice with the higher amount. Fox only learned the justification for the increase when she called Ham’s office. “I said, ‘Wow, that’s a big jump when I already had an agreement with them at the beginning of the year,’” Fox said.

Ham didn’t return a request for comment left at his office by Cambridge Day, and he rejected a second request, Martin said, because talking to the media isn’t “his job.”

“They want to charge me for what I could pay in rent in a very busy neighborhood in either downtown Boston or Harvard Square,” Fox said. “I thought I was doing a good service for the community.”

Baldwin parent Maryellen Paquette would be sorry to lose Design Hive as a shopping experience and educational experience. She comes regularly with her daughter, Aven. “I think it’s good for the kids to see it. The kids talk to the artists … the people selling stuff are the people who made the stuff. Aven’s talked to jewelry makers, photographers, hat makers, doll makers,” she said.

Hearing why the school system might not want Design Hive in the Baldwin gym, Paquette scoffed.

“You can’t tell me these grown-up artists are going to cause more wear and tear on the building than the kids,” she said.

Design Hive runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Maria L. Baldwin School, 28 Sacramento St., Cambridge. For information, click here.