When thinking about questions we hear frequently in the daystalls at Pike Place Market, at the top of the list is certainly a variation of “I was here the other day looking for you. Where were you?”
There are a few possible answers:
1) I was not here; I was at home making product, shipping mail orders, doing bookkeeping, updating my website, blogging, packaging product, ordering supplies, or any number of other tasks necessary to keep my little one-woman show working.
2) I was not here; I took a day off to relax, spend quality time with my husband and cats, visit with friends, go out to eat, go hiking, see a movie, take a vacation, or any number of other activities necessary to keep me working!
3) I was here, but not in this spot.
How does that work, you ask. Welllll, it’s a little complicated. You see, when one becomes a daystall vendor (or “permit holder” as we are properly called) at Pike Place Market, you are handed a 50+ page document full of rules, regulations, and procedures that govern the operation of the daystalls, which are host to craftspeople as well as farmers.
But wait, I should go back a step – how does one become a craftsperson at the market? First, you must be just that – an artist or craftsperson producing 100% of your work by yourself, by hand. (There are a small number of “grandfathered” vendors who are allowed to sell imported goods as they have been in the market since prior to the handmade rule.) The market master reviews applications and you must stand before a screening committee for approval. Once that hurdle is passed, the market master will pay a visit to your studio/workspace to view and document your process. Then you are given a seniority number.
Your seniority number is very important. Casual conversation between vendors often includes the question, “What number are you?” It is a way of sizing you up, a method of vetting you for old-timer or new-timer status, and an indicator of how good your choice of spots on any given day is likely to be. I am number 150. I started 6 years ago at 209. Movement up the list is faster toward the end of it; more attrition. The fewer people are ahead of you, the more slowly you move up.
The beauty of being a daystall vendor at the market is that we don’t have to be there every day (thus the term “daystall” since we rent the stalls by the day). This allows for activities 1 and 2, above. There are attendance requirements that seem to comprise 30 pages of the aforementioned rules, but I shan’t bother you with them. Because our schedules are mostly at our own whim, the craftspeople attend roll call in the morning to choose spaces before setting up. We sign in on a sheet that lists everybody by name in seniority order. If you are signed in when the market master comes to you, s/he calls your name and you choose an open space. If you’ve ever been in the market before we set up and noticed a large group of people gathered in the north end of the arcade, this is what is going on.
As number 150, I am right on the cusp of having a “good” number. On most weekdays, it is not difficult for me to get a “good” spot as there aren’t many vendors (the definition of “good” varies; we all like different spaces for different reasons – more traffic, less traffic, the neighbors, etc.). You might imagine, on Saturdays, when business is generally better, more vendors choose to come to the market. There might be 100+ crafters picking spaces ahead of me. If the weather is nice and many of them want to go outside, there will be plenty of spaces for me to choose from inside, but perhaps not in an ideal location. If the weather is poor, there may not be a table available inside by the time the market master gets to me.
Why do I endure this uncertainty, not knowing where or even whether I will be selling each day? Because I love what I do. I had no idea that I would enjoy being a small business owner as much as I do. For me, self-employment is challenging, rewarding, and exciting (and not nearly as frightening as I expected before venturing out on my own). I can work as much or as little as I want. Being in the market gives me the opportunity to bring my products directly to customers from all around the world, as well as allowing me to be part of a community of other artists and craftspeople.
I love using my creativity and skills to build a product line that truly comes from me and delivers to my customers in a way that betters their lives. I love to hear that my lip smoothies “make smooching my wife like ten times better” and that my soaps are “the best I have ever used.” It makes me giddy to know that someone thinks that my skin smoothies are “just the thing for my dry feet.” THAT is why I do this.
Becky Boutch, Seattle Rainwater Soap Co.
P.S. You can always check my website for my schedule of days at the market.