Decades before the original Starbucks, salmon-tossing fishmongers and Rachel the life-sized piggy bank made the Pike Place Market an international tourist attraction, there were eight wagons filled with produce and consumers hungry to avoid the rising price of onions.
When the Seattle landmark opened in 1907, middlemen had driven the price of a pound of onions from 10 cents a dollar. Consumers wanted to buy directly from the farmer, connect with their neighbors and socialize. A century later, it draws both locals out for a week's worth of fresh produce, and tourists from around the world.
"The market defines Seattle," said Seattle City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck, whose father, Victor Steinbrueck, is credited with saving Pike Place Market in the 1970s. "It embodies the best of Seattle &
our people and our diversity."
Locals, tourists and descendants of the market founders gathered Friday to celebrate the market's endurance. Events included a reenactment of the first day of market sales, a giant birthday cake and a championship salmon toss.
"It has always been a place where people go on Saturday to do their shopping," said Alice Shorett, author of two books about the history of the market. "It's also a place where you are entertained and can go to be social."
The market's place in Seattle has varied over the 100 years of its existence, ebbing with the development of downtown Seattle and growing with support from the city and citizen groups.
After the market's beginnings in 1907, it grew to house 515 stalls in 1939. The signature clock and Public Market sign were installed in 1927.
But World War II and the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans hurt the market's growth. Because Japanese-Americans represented about two-thirds of the vendors in the market, the number of stalls dropped to 196 by 1942. The number of stalls continued to slip to 53 by 1949. In 1950 came the first of many proposals to turn the market into parking for downtown office workers.
Parking proposals persisted into the 1960s. A ballot initiative to create a downtown historical district encompassing the market passed in 1971, the same year the first Starbucks coffee store opened.
The future of the market was not secure yet. In 1983 the market entered a real estate and management agreement with New York-based Urban Group to raise money to revitalize the market. But because of changes in tax laws The Urban Group lost money on the deal and threatened to foreclose and radically redevelop the market.
1991, local lawmakers raised $1.5 million in federal money and $750,000 from locals to buy off The Urban Group.
Since, the market has continued to raise money for renovations through various campaigns. In 1986 the market installed Rachel, a life-sized bronze piggy bank, which raises $9,000 a year.
The fishmongers that throw fish behind Rachel, who were featured on an episode of Frasier, and the first Starbucks coffee store, have come represent Seattle to visitors.
Ralph Goodwin, a great-nephew of Frank Goodwin, the first manager of the market, said being at the market made him feel connected to his family history.
"It gives you goose bumps walking around thinking that you're part of the family that did it," Goodwin said.
Vendors at the market said the 100 year anniversary is a reaffirmation of the values that Pike Place stands for.
"It's a joy to work here because we know that we're selling produce that's 10 times fresher than big-box stores," said Mark Eskenazi-Suemanzo who has worked for 10 years at one of the market's oldest produce vendors, Sosios.
The market could undergo even more change in upcoming years, Steinbrueck and Shorett said. With developers building hundreds of new condominiums and hotel rooms downtown including a Four Seasons hotel, the market could return to its roots as downtown's food source, Shorett said.
"It's is important for people to not take it for granted," Shorett said. "The market has somehow survived and it needs to have people caring about it and watching out for it."
Pike Place Market celebrates 100 years