Oh, the plans were horrible. “Tear down much of Pike Place Market to make way for a 1,500-car parking garage,” developers of the 1950s gleefully pitched. “No, make it big enough for 3,000 cars!” blared their 1963 counterparts. “We hear you 1963, but think what you really mean is there ought to be space enough for 4,000 cars,” taunted the same interests in 1968.
On and on it went, the fate of the longest continuously running farmers market, founded in 1907, hanging in the balance, each plan more soul sucking than the last. Big-box retail, high-rise hotels, a state-of-the-art shopping mall.
Then, on November 2, 1971, the people of Seattle did a remarkable thing. They voted to pass a measure preserving seven acres as a historic district. Nearly 50 years later, those seven acres are the Pike Place Market you know today. And that 1971 vote is, in part, why you’ll find nary a Sbarro or Hot Topic on the premises. Why, unlike at other port cities, no Bubba Gump greets tourists ready to get their blockbuster-inspired feedbags on. Why the market is a real working market that locals put to use every day—with hundreds of small independent farms and craftspeople and merchants occupying just as many stalls and storefronts. Why Pike Place Market, which we explore anew in this month’s cover story (“The Complete Revised Guide to Pike Place Market"), remains the soul of this city.
Plus, I daresay, the market is magic. It’s like that dream where you discover there’s a room in your house that’s long escaped your notice. Except in this case there exist hundreds of those unexplored rooms. As in the dream, you stumble upon these spaces and find surprising collections of ephemera and a grizzled character or two.
I don’t get there as much as I’d like now. But back when Seattle Met’s offices were on Western Ave, I visited Pike Place Market nearly every weekday. Often for lunch—Los Agaves and DeLaurenti both had my number—but just as often not. There were days when I’d be stuck on a particularly tricky draft or needed to puzzle through a thorny office matter, and I’d hoof the two blocks up Western.
Just as it has done for millions of visitors for more than 100 years, the market put me straight, reminded me what a city can be, what people can be. May it continue to inspire for 100 years more.