Seattle’s Pike Place Market is not only an icon, it’s an attraction that draws over 10 million visitors each year as well as locals who are fortunate enough to have so much fresh fish and produce at their fingertips.
I met up with Ben Franz-Knight, Executive Director of the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority (“PDA“) for a quick tour this past week. We convened next to Rachel the Pig, in front of Pike Place Fish which is famous for their salmon-slinging staff.
Here’s the rundown for the oldest continuously running market in the United States: There are about 300 commercial businesses (from artisans to florists, collectors, bakers, and butchers), 85 farmers (Pike Place is where you can Meet the Producers of your food), 240 craftspeople, 325 buskers (you’ll find them near on the music notes that have been painted on the ground), and 500 residents (many of them in low-income housing).
We walked by Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, where gallons of milk are trucked and pumped in daily and public can view the cheese-making process first-hand through the ground-to-ceiling windows around the building. Further down the roadway we stopped into Starbucks store #1. It’s not the original location but this one has been here since 1976 and only serves what Starbucks offered back then: coffee (no cranberry bliss bars or paninis).
Crossing the street to the North Arcade I learned that every single morning vendors vie for their spots. There’s an opening bell and, based on seniority, vendors here in the arcade get to select their stalls – meaning they setup all of their wares, from scratch, each day.
The arcade was bustling with buskers on guitar or violin; vendors with jewelry, belt buckles, and clocks; pots of honey, strips of jerky, packs of cheese; dresses, hats, scarves, and tie-dyed shirts.
We made our way Down Under where three more levels of the market expand down and reach the waterfront from the Hill Climb stairs. In this fully covered mall-like area of the market, permanent shop owners sell everything from collectibles and books to magic supplies.
Strapping on a hard-hat we walked past the notorious Gum Wall (or Wall of Gum) that was voted the 2nd most germ-laden attraction in the world (the Blarney Stone taking the top spot). The safety gear was so that we could check in on the Market Theatre and the Economy Building renovations.
Looping back around I finally had an understanding of the small “city within a city” that is Pike Place Market. From the fresh rain-drenched air of the Main Arcade, to the wandering aromas of Corner Market, Triangle Building, and the North End. Baked goods, cheeses, spices, and fruits tickle your nostrils and perhaps even your taste buds as many samples are being offered out on the street.
Everywhere you look, there are unique touches that were either contributed by former cornerstones of the community, artists, organizations, or colourful characters.
The next time you visit you can take a guided tour, spend hours exploring (and tasting) on your own, or hop in and out to get ingredients for a home-cooked meal. Follow @Pike_Place on Twitter or Facebook for more information and check out their upcoming special events for the Pike Place Market Foundation.