First Person, Last Word

Pike Place Market Has Offered Me Lessons of Resilience

After a rough stretch in my life, the market's vendors and bounty were restorative.

By Holly Regan Illustrations by Jane Sherman July 9, 2021

Fruits gleam at Frank's Produce. 

Image: Jane Sherman

When my life fell apart a few years ago, my friends and family held me together—but few were more impactful than Pike Place Market. On trips there as a child, I gaped in awe while my mother pushed my stroller past piles of Turkish delights, bakeries’ bounty, and cheesemakers cutting curd. When I grew up, it was the perfumed peaches and wild, wrinkled mushrooms, but the Market always brought me to this state of wonder—until I moved to Austin, Texas, and into a toxic, codependent marriage. Over five volatile years, the friction eroded my identity.

When I returned home with my then-spouse, we settled a short walk from the Market, and each visit was a brief resuscitation. In the neon glow that invited me to “Meet the Producers,” I peeled butter-crisped layers off croissants and savored smoked salmon; the crowd’s chatter and olfactory din mixed with my mother’s love and the comforts of home until I found the strength to leave my marriage. At Frank’s Produce , I’d met Charles “Chas” Shamsheldin. With a ball cap perpetually poised above kind eyes and a mischievous grin, Chas is a wealth of culinary knowledge, so popular I must often wait my turn to see him. We built a relationship through small transactions, and he can read me with a single glance. One day, as I picked through a pile of English peas, Chas asked what was wrong, and I stammered: “I’m getting divorced.” He wrapped his arms around me in a forest of kale and sent me home with an overflowing produce bag.

Four years later, every time I crest the hill at Pike and First, my blood pressure still drops; my breathing settles. My cycling shoes clip-clop on the cobblestones like the sound of horse-drawn carts bringing produce on the Market’s opening day in 1907, which history remembers as “a clamorous fiasco .” Yet the chaos bred resilience. Since then, the Market has faced its own existential crises: from ownership battles to development projects to a pandemic that dry-docked cruise ships and slowed tourist throngs to a trickle. But it’s constantly reinventing itself, just like me. As Chas said one day, smiling over a tower of broccoli, “You’re back.”

[1] The produce stand has served chefs and locals alike for 85 years.

[2]Thousands of shoppers descended upon less than a dozen farmers’ carts in the middle of a rainstorm and “quickly stripped them bare,” according to the National Trust Guide Seattle

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