A cavalcade of noise, smells, personalities, banter and urban theater sprinkled liberally around a spatially challenged waterside strip, Pike Place Market is Seattle in a bottle. In operation since 1907 and still as lively today as it was on day one, this wonderfully local experience highlights the city for what it really is: all-embracing, eclectic and proudly unique.
A 2017 expansion of the market infrastructure added vendor space, weather-protected common areas, extra parking, and housing for low-income seniors.
If you’re coming from downtown, simply walk down Pike Street toward the waterfront; you can’t miss the huge Public Market sign etched against the horizon. Incidentally, the sign and clock, installed in 1927, constituted one of the first pieces of outdoor neon on the West Coast.
From the top of Pike Street and 1st Avenue, stop and survey the bustle and vitality. Walk down the cobblestone street, past perpetually gridlocked cars (don’t even think of driving down to Pike Place) and, before walking into the market, stop and shake the bronze snout of Rachel the Market Pig, the de-facto mascot and presiding spirit of the market.
This life-size piggy bank, carved by Whidbey Island artist Georgia Gerber and named after a real pig, collects about $10,000 each year. The funds are pumped back into market social services. Nearby is the information booth, which has maps of the market and information about Seattle in general. It also serves as a ticket booth, selling discount tickets to various shows throughout the city.
Pike Place Market History
Pike Place Market is the oldest continuously operating market in the nation. It was established in 1907 to give local farmers a place to sell their fruit and vegetables and bypass the middleman. Soon, the greengrocers made room for fishmongers, bakers, butchers, cheese sellers, grocers selling imported wares, and purveyors of the rest of the Northwest’s agricultural bounty.
The market wasn’t exactly architecturally robust – it’s always been a thrown-together warren of sheds and stalls, haphazardly designed for utility – and was by no means an intentional tourist attraction. That came later.
An enthusiastic agricultural community spawned the market’s heyday in the 1930s. Many of the first farmers were immigrants, a fact the market celebrates with annual themes acknowledging the contributions of various ethnic groups; past years have featured Japanese Americans, Italian Americans and Sephardic Jewish Americans.
By the 1960s, sales at the market were suffering from suburbanization, the growth of supermarkets and the move away from local, small-scale market gardening. Vast tracts of agricultural land were disappearing, replaced by such ventures as the Northgate Mall and Sea-Tac airport.
The internment of Japanese American farmers during WWII had also taken its toll. The entire area became a bowery for the destitute and was known as a center of ill repute.
In the wake of the 1962 World’s Fair, plans were drawn up to bulldoze the market and build high-rise office and apartment buildings on this piece of prime downtown real estate. Fortunately, public outcry prompted a voter’s initiative to save the market. Subsequently, the space was cleaned up and restructured, and it has become once again the undeniable pulse of downtown; some 10 million people stroll through the market each year.
Thanks to the unique management of the market, social-services programs and low-income housing mix with commerce, and the market has maintained its gritty edge. These initiatives have prevented the area from ever sliding too far upscale.
A market law prohibits chain stores or franchises from setting up shop and ensures all businesses are locally owned. The one exception is, of course, Starbucks, which gets away with its market location because it is the coffee giant’s oldest outlet, moving here from its original location in 1976.
In 2015, ground was broken on the "Pike Up" project, a 30,000-sq-ft extension of Pike Place. Made possible by the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the MarketFront complex opened in 2017 with new shops, restaurants and stalls, and links the market to the waterfront via terraces, staircases and green space.
Main and North Arcades
Rachel the Market Pig marks the main entrance to the Main & North Arcades, thin shed-like structures that run along the edge of the hill; these are the busiest of the market buildings.
With banks of fresh produce carefully arranged in artful displays, and fresh fish, crab and other shellfish piled high on ice, this is the real heart of the market. Here you’ll see fishmongers tossing salmon back and forth like basketballs (many of these vendors will pack fish for overnight delivery).
You’ll also find cheese shops, butchers, stands selling magazines and candy from around the world, tiny grocery stalls and almost everything else you need to put together a meal. The end of the North Arcade is dedicated to local artisans and craftspeople – products must be handmade to be sold here. It's also abloom with flower sellers. The Main Arcade was built in 1907, the first of Frank Goodwin’s market buildings.
As if the levels of the market that are above ground aren’t labyrinthine enough, below the Main Arcade are three lower levels called the Down Under. Here you’ll find a fabulously eclectic mix of pocket-size shops, from Indian spice stalls to magician supply shops and vintage magazine and map purveyors.
Economy Market Building
Once a stable for merchants’ horses, the Economy Market Building on the south side of the market entrance has a wonderful Italian grocery store, DeLaurenti – a great place for any aficionado of Italian foods to browse and sample.
There’s also Tenzing Momo, one of the oldest apothecaries on the West Coast, where you can pick up herbal remedies, incense, oils and books. Tarot readings are available here on occasion. Look down at the Economy Market floor and you’ll see some of its 46,000 tiles, sold to the public in the 1980s for $35 apiece.
If you bought a tile, you’d get your name on it and be proud that you helped save the market floor. Famous tile owners include Cat in the Hat creator Dr. Seuss and former US president Ronald Reagan.
If you continue past DeLaurenti, you’ll come into the South Arcade, the market’s newest wing, home to upscale shops and the lively Pike Pub & Brewery. It's not technically part of the historic market, but is with it in spirit and rambunctious energy.
Corner and Sanitary Market Buildings
Across Pike Place from the Main Arcade are the 1912 Corner & Sanitary Market Buildings, so named because they were the first of the market buildings in which live animals were prohibited.
It’s now a maze of ethnic groceries and great little eateries, including Three Girls Bakery, which is as old as the building itself and the insanely popular Crumpet Shop. When you've finished devouring your baked goods, you can digest a bit of radical literature in bolshie bookstore, Left Bank Books.
Between the Corner Market and the Triangle Building, narrow Post Alley (named for its hitching posts) is lined with shops and restaurants. Extending north across Stewart Street, it offers two of the area’s best places for a drink: the Pink Door Ristorante, an Italian hideaway with a cool patio, and Kells, an Irish pub.
In Lower Post Alley, beside the market sign, is the LaSalle Hotel, which was the first bordello north of Yesler Way. Originally the Outlook Hotel, it was taken over in 1942 by the notorious Nellie Curtis, a woman with 13 aliases and a knack for running suspiciously profitable hotels with thousands of lonely sailors lined up nightly outside the door. The building, rehabbed in 1977, now houses commercial and residential space.
Post Alley continues on the southern side of Pike Street where you'll find the beautifully disgusting gum wall. The once venerable red-brick facade is now covered in used pieces of chewing gum, originally stuck there by bored theater-goers standing in line for a nearby ticket office in the 1990s.
Despite early attempts by the city council to sanitize, the gum-stickers persevered and in 1999, the wall was declared a tourist attraction. Feel free to add your own well-chewed morsels to the Jackson Pollock–like display
Next head to one of the market's best hideaway spots, the bar and pizza restaurant Alibi Room.
All in a row in the diminutive Triangle Building, sandwiched between Pike Place, Pine Street and Post Alley, is a huddle of cheap food take-outs including Mee Sum Pastry (try the steamed pork bun), a juice bar and Cinnamon Works – all great choices for a stand-up snack.
First Avenue Buildings
These downtown-facing buildings, added mainly in the 1980s, blend seamlessly into the older hive. Here you'll find Pike Place's only two accommodations – Pensione Nichols and Inn at the Market – a couple of classic pubs and community resources such as a medical center.
The market's North End stretches along Pike Place from Pine Street to Victor Steinbrueck Park – a popular meeting point for daily walking tours. The 1918 Soames-Dunn building, once occupied by a seed company and a paper company, is now home to the world's oldest Starbucks. Beware of crowds and errant elbows knocking over your mermaid-logo coffee cup.
Pike Place Market Hours
Early birds catch more than worms at Pike Place Market. Arrive promptly at 9am for some real-life street theater at market roll call before wandering over to the Main Arcade to see the fish throwers warming up. The purpose of roll call is allocating space to the market’s temporary craft-sellers.
As Pike Place has more than 200 registered vendors but only 130 available trading spots, each day is nail-biting. By 9:30am the spots have been assigned and everyone is on their way. Roll call is held at the north end of the North Arcade.