In Seattle, Pike Place Market is The Place to Be

Seattle's Public Market Center, known as Pike Place Market, the biggest tourist draw next to the Space Needle.
Seattle’s Public Market Center, the biggest tourist draw next to the Space Needle.

Seattle’s Pike Place Market: “Someone buy a fish so we can throw it!”

By Wynne Crombie

A Dungeness crab for sale at one of the Pike Place market's fish stalls.
A Dungeness crab for sale at one of the market’s fish stalls.

Buckets of ice chips were thrown over rows of Dungeness crab and King Salmon fillets.

The Pike Place Fish Market, an important part of Seattle’s identity, was ready. The airborne salmon sparkled with tiny slivers of ice as Brian, a fishmonger, heaved it into the air.

At the other end, approximately fifteen feet away, was a clerk ready to weigh it and wrap it up.

Fish Tossing Since 1980

Vegetables of all descriptions are for sale in the market.
Vegetables of all descriptions are for sale in the market.

Brian, decked out in a baseball cap, orange apron, and rubber boots, told me that fish-throwing has been in existence since 1980 and it does have a function.

The customer picks out their fish and it is then thrown to the next fishmonger for weighing and wrapping. The onlookers clap in appreciation. After each throw, the crowd shifts their feet, eager for them to do it again.

When tourists get in way of the legitimate customers, (it is a prime photo-op after all) Brian moves them back. Salmon prices are in the $15.99/lb price range. The market will filet and pack fish for shipping at no extra cost. The fish is packed to go for 48 hours. The Market’s shipping slogan? No leaks, no smells.

Which way to throw the big fish?
Which way to throw the big fish?

A short distance away, a busker…a person who entertains in a public place for donations …was playing the flute.

Street performers have long entertained shoppers and add to the Market’s ambiance. It’s traditional to offer them a tip.

A guitar player was tuning up just outside the door.

Ferry Whistles Pierce the Air

The ferry whistles pierce the air from the waterfront below. Soft breezes come up from the surface of Elliott Bay, giving the air a slightly salty smell.

Cars rumble over the cobblestones that run beneath the iconic market sign while trucks roll down Pike Place to offload their crates.

I made a right-hand turn from the Pike Place Fish Market and was met with a massive display of fresh flowers. Each arrangement was wrapped in butcher paper and displayed among a sea of bouquets. Bread baking smells were wafting along with the corridor mingling with the floral aromas.

Samples of chocolate pasta given out at Pike Place Market in Seattle.
Samples of chocolate pasta given out.

As I strolled through the aisles, I watched produce sellers building precise piles of fruits and vegetables. One of the specialties of the Pike Market is that the produce is picked daily.

Some of the venders were handing out samples. I tried the chocolate pasta. It was raw, so the chocolate flavor rather escaped me.  

Easy to get lost

It can be easy to get lost here, but that’s entirely the point. There are sights, sounds, tastes, and aromas to be explored. In the Pike Place Market, there’s no such thing as a wrong turn. Take time to wander.

Handmade items can be found from some 225 artisans. There are specialty foods from around the world. Cooking demos give you ideas on what to do with all that food. The Market’s historic arcade, winding aisles, stairways, and lower levels offer a variety of experiences.        

A fish thrower in action.
A fish thrower in action.

The market is bustling, but low key. Although it is crowded, I didn’t see any pushing or shoving. It is a special enjoyment for all ages. (Although I don’t think many do their weekly grocery shopping here!)

Some of the shops I encountered: Seattle Hats, Quality Fruits and Vegetables, Pikes Pit Bar-B-Q, Chukar Cherries, Another Happy Hooker (handmade dolls) Starbucks Original Cafe, Honest Biscuits, Shen Zen Tea and The Flying Kolache.

Soundview Cafe

It was time for a bite of lunch. There are more than 80 different eateries ranging from take-out to fine dining. I took a walk down the ramp to the Soundview Café on the mezzanine where it was much less crowded and decidedly less noisy.

Red King Salmon are the prize.
Red King Salmon is the prize.

The Café has a plentiful salad bar and a variety of soups. There are three different varieties of clam chowder alone. Burgers and seafood entrees are also available.

Pike Place Market began with only eight farmers in August 1907. They decided to sell their goods directly to the public. The idea was an instant hit.

In 1922, the Pike Place Market put the finishing touches on the market’s present-location of eleven buildings along the downtown Seattle waterfront.

Seattle’s Pike Street Market is one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the United States. It takes up nine acres from Pike St. north to Virginia St. and from 1st Ave west to Western Ave.

All sorts of vegetables, foods, seafood and crafts are sold at the market.
All sorts of vegetables, foods, seafood, and crafts are sold at the market.

An Interesting History

The market has an interesting history. The advent of World War II forced the internment of all Japanese Americans. Two-thirds of the market’s vendors were of Japanese descent.

Unfortunately, the Market went on a downslide from there and by the 1960s, plans were underway to tear down the market and build skyscrapers in its place. Luckily there was a successful campaign to establish a 17-acre historic district in 1971.

The Market is one of Seattle’s most popular attractions. It attracts 10 million visitors each year. In 2017, the new Pike Place MarketFront, an expansion toward the waterfront, will be completed. It is open 363 days a year, closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Oh yes…I even saw a bride wandering the aisles with her bridesmaids.

Location: 1st Ave and Pike St., Seattle. You can’t miss the iconic sign: Seattle Public Market.

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