Rachel at Pike Place Market
Between 1st. Ave and Pike Place, downtown Seattle, WA
I love visiting Pike Place Market. Even on a weekday it’s bustling busy, crowded and lively. Street performances were found at the end of each block, children were wildly running around and happy shoppers were poking around at stalls and fruit stands. We stopped in to pick up some fruit and also to visit the inaugural Starbucks. More on that later.
Pike Place Market is spilling with history and charm, having been a Seattle landmark since 1907. The market still seems to be the heart of the city, providing the freshest local food, entertainment and goods to shoppers and tourists. The Market hosts events such as Arcade Lights, celebrating local craft beers and wines. Turns out, Seattle is famous for more than just good coffee.
My favourite thing about public markets is the accessibility to the vendors, stall owners are on hand to answer questions and greet customers. In fact, the mandate of Pike Place Market is: Meet the Producer. It’s written in big bold letters behind the lit Public Market sign at the front entrance of the market. It almost makes the fresh fruit and seafood taste better to know the stories and histories behind it. It also adds to the experience of shopping, making it a much more friendly and intimate exchange than the clinical visits at supermarkets when you can walk right through and use the self-checkout, avoiding any sort of human interaction altogether.
As an example, when we were picking out plump, fuzzy white peaches, the owner of the stand stopped us and offered to run across the street to grab us a few riper peaches. It was totally thoughtful of him. We ended up buying more peaches and a few handfuls of local Rainier cherries. The peaches we bought did turn out to be juicy and ripe. Later on that night, we couldn’t eat them without dribbling sweet and sticky juice all over our chins. The Rainier cherries also turned out to be tender and juicy. They’re much sweeter than their ruby red counterparts.
One of my favourite stalls is Pike Place Fish Company. It’s a major tourist attraction. I still remember coming here when I was little. Every time a customer purchases a fish, the fish mongers toss the silvery whole fish across the stall and shout the customer’s orders to each other. It’s great entertainment. I have yet to see them toss a lobster (those solid claws might just be a safety hazard).
We were amazed at the cheap seafood around the market: just $21.50 USD for a pound of cooked and peeled shrimp! Too bad we already had dinner plans, otherwise, we would have bought a pound each and started eating them right out of the bag at the waterfront.
Another common theme around the market that I started noticing this time were the pig sculptures. Rachel, the original bronze pig sculpture at the front of the market has always stood guard and served as the mascot for Pike Place Market. But I noticed many other pigs scattered all over the market too. Perched on rooftops, covered in seasonal flowers and there was even a small parade of pigs up high on the rooftop of the market. We spied these colourful pigs from our window seat at Matt’s in the Market.
Turns out, in 2001, Pike Place Market hosted a ‘Pigs on Parade‘ fundraiser: different pig sculptures were placed all around Seattle as public art and auctioned off for charity to raise funds for the Pike Place Market Foundation programs, a senior center, food bank, preschool and clinic. Pigs on Parade was modeled after a Zurich fundraiser, Cow Parade, featuring cow sculptures. The fundraiser also reminded me of Toronto’s Great Moose Parade a few summers ago.
The original piggy bank, Rachel is still the main photo op, and even late into the evening, we saw little kids climbing on top of the sculpture for pictures. Japanese tourists held up peace signs and dunked coins into the piggy bank slit. I couldn’t help but take my own touristy picture as I contributed my coins to the Market Foundation.