Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Public Markets – Pike Place Market

Dateline: 3:34 pm November 25, 2009 Filed under:

Of all the public markets, Pike Place Market in Seattle is my favorite. It has a (here comes a gem from planning lingo) “patina” about it. Probably because it is 100 years old and the patina is actually accumulated grime on the walls from those fish-throwing guys.

Sure I love the original Farmers Market adjacent The Grove in Los Angeles, and there’s Faneuil Hall in Boston, the gorgeous renovation of the Ferry Building in San Francisco, the wonderful Reading Terminal Market in Philly, and even the upstart Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, but Pike Place Market wins me over.

Pike Place Market celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2007. In 2008, the voters of Seattle passed a referendum to renovate and update the market. On a recent visit to Seattle, I was fortunate enough to get a behind the scenes tour of the market. See some photos here.

Did you know the market is part of a nine-acre historic district consisting of 23 buildings, that there are 300 apartment units mostly reserved for low-income senior citizens, and that it was almost lost to urban renewal in the 1960s?

Needless to say, it survived, and today hosts 10 million annual visitors to its bustling perch overlooking Elliott Bay. The market contains 250 long-term tenants, and 190 craftspeople and 120 farmers rent stalls by the day. Each morning, a roll call is taken, and daily tenants are prioritized by seniority as to where they may hawk their wares.

Why is Pike Place Market called the “soul of Seattle?” I suspect it is the timelessness of rubbing elbows with fellow citizens and buying things directly from the producer. On our visit, my friends and I purchased crab legs and veggies from daystalls and enjoyed them with a couple bottles of Chardonnay in our rented condo overlooking the bay just two blocks from the market. Later that evening, I returned to walk the largely empty alleys, streets and corridors of the market after the merchants had left for the day. Seeing Pike Place Market quiet and at rest (being pressure-washed, actually) gave me new appreciation for the beauty of this historic public place of commerce, indeed the soul of Seattle.

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