Pike Place Market

along with the Space Needle, the Pike Place Market is one of the most memorable landmarks in Seattle. running since 1907, it’s one of the longest continually-running public markets in the United States. while we were there I saw a smattering of young info-pushers promoting the “your community market” dimension, trying to shift local perception of who uses the market and why you should use it as your local fruit, veg, and fish market.
prior to the establishment of the Pike Place Market, an outdoor public market operated nearby and at which produce was sold primarily via wholesalers rather than farmers themselves. the additional middlemen — necessitated by the time demanded by farming and which precluded spending time selling in an urban public market — resulted in unsavory business practices and sometimes shocking price irregularities (sometimes farmers couldn’t make a profit on the produce they sold to middlemen; between 1906 and 1907 the price of onions went from $0.10 per pound to $1.00 per pound). in advance of the opening day of the newly-established public market, thugs for the wholesalers reportedly went around to farms closest to the city and bought up produce or intimidated farmers, warning them against participating.
despite threats, about 10 farmers and over 50 customers showed up the ribbon cutting and, ceremony concluded, the customers climbed over one another and began buying produce of carts faster than the farmers could keep up tallying sales. by noon all the produce had gone, into the hands of paying customers. the first covered market building opened in November of 1907 and by 1911 demand for stalls resulted forced a doubling in the number available. with the growth came complaints from farmers, who felt the rent and accessibility were unreasonable and inconvenient, respectively, though little action from the market owners. farmers proposed a $150,000 ballot initiative, at which locals balked, while the mayor counter-proposed a more modest $25,000 market improvement initiative that voters supported. the nearby property owners (the Goodwins) continued with their own plans to improve on their holdings and ended up expanding the market five stories down the bluff face of Western Avenue. this expansion held restaurants, bakeries, butchers, a creamery, and all manner of shops. on our visit more than a few of the lower storefronts stood empty; one pair of spaces had an art gallery and attached studio in which the artist was working as we passed. in another there was just an easel with a partially-finished painting though no obvious signs of ongoing work.
over the decades, various attempts to change or update the market have met limited success. in 1920 the city worked to move farmer stalls off the street because of complaints about traffic flow (which makes sense — all the stalls are inside now and the traffic on Pike Place as we visited was still pretty terrible; distracted and wandering tourist-pedestrians don’t help the mix, I’m sure). in 1963 the city proposed demolishing the market in favor of a new building to house a hotel, apartment complex, hockey arena, parking garage, and offices. thankfully, supporters of the market banded together to get it named as an historic preservation area and returned to public control. in the 1980s cuts to government funding of public assistance programs threatened projects run by the market’s development authority, such as a free medical clinic, senior center, and food bank; to preserve these projects the authority established a fundraising arm that ran successful capital campaigns, including one to pay for tiling the floor of the top-floor arcade (to prevent water leaking down and causing damage lower levels) by selling tiles stenciled with donor names for $35 a piece. over the course of more than two years some 45,000 tiles were placed.

Author: Erica

born in the midwest with wandering feet.