Sep 27, 2007
Pike Place Market Celebrates a Century in Seattle

Pike Place Market turned 100 this year.

I didn’t know that when I was planning our honeymoon, but it turned out to be a convenient coincidence. It gave me an excuse to write this column.

Anyway, a few weeks before our wedding, my fiancée, Keri, told me I could take care of the honeymoon. She had more than enough on her plate, planning our Big Day and all.

I picked Seattle. I’d been curious about the city for quite a while, with its musical heritage (Jimi Hendrix, grunge), location (Pacific Northwest, between the mountains and the sea) and high-class reputation (“Frasier,” anyone?), but I didn’t realize it was home to one of the world’s great farmers’ markets. I also didn’t realize the market celebrated its centennial the week before we got there. For a guy who makes a living writing about farmers and direct marketing, that’s pretty good timing.

The timing would have been even better if we had visited the market the week of the centennial, instead of the week after, but that’s just getting greedy. It was August, the sun was shining (we were told the weather was unusually beautiful) and we were on our honeymoon. I had nothing to complain about.

Anyway, just about everybody we talked to said we should check out the market – that Pike Place Market is Seattle. We obliged them, and weren’t disappointed. The market pretty much takes up an entire block of the city, offering a seemingly endless variety of wares. There was a multitude of fish (though we didn’t see anybody throw them, unfortunately), crafts, artists, musicians, and at least one magician. There also were book stores, record stores, a store for lefties (two stores, actually – one for left-handed people and one for the extremely liberal), candy stores and a whole lot more. In short, there was a lot of stuff to buy and a horde of hungry tourists to buy it. It’s enough to make any vendor salivate – especially a local grower.

In my opinion, the market could use more local growers. There were more crafts than there were fruit and vegetables – though the fruit we sampled was choice. We ate two darn good peaches from Martin Family Orchards. According to, the Martins grow tree-ripened cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, apples and pears in eastern Washington. They sell at 26 farmers’ markets, but Pike Place is their busiest. They sell there seven days a week from June to October.

The market’s vendors are highly accessible. As in any farmers’ market, customers can talk to them face to face. They also can peruse the detailed Web site for information about the Martins and dozens of other producers. For example, Tovias Magana has been selling at the market since 1996. He starts with asparagus, then moves to sweet onions, cucumbers, peas, garlic, tomatoes, cherries, peaches and apples. Originally from Mexico, he’s been farming in the Yakima Valley since 1977, according to the Web site.

Apparently, “meeting the producer” has been a Pike Place principle since the market was founded in 1907. After onion prices increased tenfold, Thomas Revelle, a Seattle city councilman, proposed starting a public street market that would connect farmers directly with consumers – and would avoid price-gouging middlemen. One hundred years later, Pike Place is America’s oldest continually operating farmers’ market, with nearly 200 businesses (including the original Starbucks), 190 craftspeople, 120 farmers and 240 street performers and musicians. The market attracts 10 million visitors a year, according to its Web site.

Pike Place is still accepting applications from potential vendors. Any person who grows commercial crops on land they own or lease is eligible to sell there. Farmers must actively grow all the crops they sell in the market, and are not permitted to purchase anything for resale. For more information, visit the Web site or call Julie Haakenson at (206) 774-5244. Her e-mail address is [email protected].

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