“Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” Yogi Berra
Long before the fish guys tossed salmon for phone-yielding tourists, before the fairly disgusting gum wall showed up, before little kids waited to sit on Rachel the pig, and before people lined up to get into “the original” Starbucks, Pike Place Market’s highstalls sold meat, cheese, and seafood. Lowstalls along Pike Place featured fresh produce from Puget Sound farmers. Mom and Pop businesses sold toys, books, and herbal medicine and service shops cut hair, inked in tattoos and practiced acupuncture. Cobblestone walkways set the stage for performers and buskers and the Market’s community services provided housing, meals, and healthcare options for seniors and low-income families.
By the 1960’s the Market was in serious disrepair—Seattle Mayor Dorm Braman called it a “somnolent fire trap”—and in 1963, the downtown business establishment applied for Federal urban renewal money to raze the Market’s failing structures and replace them with parking garages and high-rise buildings. Victor Steinbrueck, an early Market loyalist, vowed “not to stand idly by as the city council replaced its grandmother with a chorus girl.” Mr. Steinbrueck and the “Friends of the Market” led community opposition and in 1971 Seattle voters passed an initiative to create a preservation zone and “saved the Market from the wrecking ball.”
Victor Steinbrueck’s “Market Sketchbook”
IN 1975, my brother-in-law Ron Irvine (then 26) and and Jack Bagdade, who met during the battle to save the market, opened Pike and Western Wine Shop in the Lower Level of the Market across from Rita Dyke’s used book store. Ron eventually moved the store onto Pike Place—down the block from Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker’s Starbucks (which sold only roasted coffee beans and definitely had no place to check your email and work on your novel) and Shirley Collin’s (“tired of going to San Francisco to buy a pastry bag”) Sur La Table. At that time, regulars used the Market for routine shopping with few tourists willing to brave sleazy 1st & Pike. Today it’s the locals that are reluctant to face the throngs of tourists and the battle for parking in a cleaner, albeit less colorful, environment.
Rachel the pig
The gum wall
My connection to the Market began in the 1950s. At the end of our summer visit to see my grandmother on Vashon Island, we would catch Harlan’s bus and go into Seattle to spend our berry picking money. Lunch was at Lowell’s (“Almost classy since 1950”), on the ground floor of the Pike Place Market, sitting at the window counter. We had already eaten a cup of clam chowder on the ferry, so we ordered Alaska cod and chips with sourdough rolls—exotic fare for Midwesterners. After lunch we headed downstairs to the Giant Shoe Museum to see a shoe worn by the “tallest man in the world” and check out the tricks at the Magic Shop. In the 70s and 80s, the Sound Food van picked up my weekly orders from Don and Joe’s, De Laurenti’s, Sur La Table, City Fish, and Sosio’s Produce. In the 1990s as a Seafirst Bank cube rat, I spent many a noontime eating lunch in the Market at the Crumpet Factory, Piroshky Piroshky, the Saigon, or El Puerco Lloron, on the Hill Climb.
In 2016, Pike Place Market celebrated its 109th anniversary and in June, 2017 the $78,000,000 MarketFront expansion will officially open. The long-developing expansion project will provide more vendor stalls, 300 additional underground parking spaces, 40 low-income senior housing apartments and 30,000 square feet of open space featuring a public plaza and viewing deck. This more-is-better, 74-year old woman is looking forward to seeing the changes but the 1950s girl who bought comic books and magic tricks on the Lower Level hopes the soul of the Market won’t change.