It started a century ago, on August 17, 1907, when a small group of farmers set up stalls at the corner of First and Pike in Seattle and sold their produce right on the street. They claimed their little city-sponsored market experiment was born out of need. The local brokers had been price fixing, so farmers were being underpaid for their eggs and vegetables. Furthermore, consumers were paying high prices for food that was often old, bruised, and wilted.
The little corner market changed all that. Offering some of the most affordable fresh food in Seattle, it grew quickly and flourished through the Great Depression. In time it was moved into a covered arcade, and a neighborhood rose up around it.
But things turned sour after World War II. The rise of supermarkets and large-scale farming cut down the numbers of Pike Place farmers and of shoppers willing to patronize them. By the mid-1960s, city leaders decided the market’s buildings, now run down, were a blight on the neighborhood and made plans to raze them. But thanks to a groundswell of community support and efforts to make it a historical district, the market was saved. In 1973 the nonprofit Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority was formed.
Pike Place Market has seen many changes over the past century, but its central mission, to be a place where farmers and customers meet, hasn’t changed one bit, says Sue Gilbert Mooers ’83, a communications specialist who has worked for the market preservation and development authority for 20 years. The rules of the market stalls still apply: no farmer can sell produce he didn’t grow himself, and no artisan can sell items he didn’t make.
Today the market sees more than nine million visitors a year. It covers nine acres, and includes seven buildings for low-income housing. It hosts a daycare and senior center and hundreds of businesses, including dozens of restaurants. It’s the oldest continuously running public market in the United States.
Gilbert Mooers has relished her time working in a Seattle landmark. It’s always a lively scene, she says. And it’s so easy to stop at the market stalls, pick up some produce, and take a bit of where you work home with you.