Pike Place celebrates 100 years in business
Find more of Peter Fish's Postcard and Western Wanderings essaysIt's 6:15 a.m. and the neon sign glows in the dawn: PUBLIC MARKETCENTER. And here they come, the fish guys in orange bib pants,looking a little morning-groggy but gung-ho as they start slappingdown salmon on the display-case ice.
Welcome to Seattle's Pike Place Market,celebrating its 100th year this summer. In the words of headorange-bib-pants guy, the Bear, "You never know what you're goingto see here."
This is true. From its beginnings in August 1907 ― whencranky Seattleites started a community market because vegetableprices were too high ― Pike Place has become a world untoitself, covering 9 acres of downtown Seattle and drawing 10 millionvisitors a year.
But back to the fish, because the fish are the first thing the10 million people want to see. This is thanks to a time-savingscheme devised by Pike Place Fish Market owner John Yokoyama in the1980s. Why, he wondered, should we carry fish around when we couldtoss them like silver footballs through the air? His inspirationhas gained Pike Place Fish Market international fame; it hasinspired motivational books and corporate seminars, which explainswhy suddenly the orange-bib guys are being joined by a dozen or sowell-dressed women who take shovels and start packing down thedisplay-case ice in some kind of corporate-bonding exercise.
"Salmon!" shouts a guy in bib pants, and as the nicely dressedwomen watch, he hurls a king salmon at the Bear.
I hate to leave, but I need to move on to chase assistant marketmaster David Dickinson on his morning rounds. As we run past theAthenian Inn ― where Tom Hanks ate in Sleepless in Seattle ― he explains that his first jobis to assign spaces to Pike Place's 300-plus day vendors. "Goodmorning," he calls, in Hmong, to a woman selling daffodils.Craftspeople mill around in sweaters they've knit themselves. "Ican't sell shirts next to somebody selling shirts," one complains.After 10 minutes Dickinson has assigned each craftsperson to asuitable stall. "My brain hurts," he says.
Naturally, given that Pike Place is historic and irreplaceable,it was almost torn down. This was in the early 1970s, whenrough-edged urban markets were out of style. But led by Universityof Washington professor Victor Steinbrueck, Seattle voters haltedthe demolition. Today Pike Place is integral to Seattle, providinghousing for a food bank, a health clinic, a senior center, andon-site day care, as well as 500 below-market-rate apartments, in avery Seattle-like effort to live the good life with king salmon andfresh-cut daffodils, but still be really earnest about it.