Numbers, names and a curious map

What do the US Senate, most American police departments and the Pike Place Market crafts line have in common? They employ a roll call at the start of business and as a basis for their activities.

The crafters’ roll call happens every day the Market is open and its function is much more than recording who is present. It’s how we get our selling space for the day and is why the crafts vendors most likely are not in the same place you last saw them, and why we can’t tell you where we’ll be next time you’re at the Market – we don’t know ourselves until that very morning!

If you’ve been to the Market early-ish and seen a crowd of people at the north end of the North Arcade, milling about expectantly and calling out seemingly random numbers in answer to names, then you’ve seen roll call.

On that north-most wall there’s a large whiteboard with a somewhat inaccurate map of all the Market daystall spaces – how they managed to draw it with century-old building features, such as columns, in completely the wrong locations is an ongoing subject of speculation!

The board

Each space is numbered and there are Second and Third Sections, north of Rachel the Pig and opposite the Chukar Cherries stand respectively, though no First Section is marked. There is the Desimone Bridge, the Dogleg and Slabs. Mario’s is drawn on the map by hand as it’s officially temporary. Also on the map are the Wet Side, Dry Side, Outside Slabs and Circle, and often added by hand in the summer is the Street.

So we assemble each morning, right now at 9.30am every day but Sunday, which is 10am. From April through the rest of the year it will be 9am daily. A hand bell is rung, an innovation in the last couple of years – often invited VIP guests do the ringing – and the Market Master for the day starts with “Anyone calling under 35?”

That’s a seniority number (for an explanation of seniority, see a previous post here) and the most senior have already reserved their usual spot by writing their number into the relevant space on the board. The rest of us have signed next to our names on a clipboard and must wait to be called to choose our space. As they move down the list the Market Master checks off our names, which ensures they’ll record our attendance and that we’ll be billed rent for that day.

Marking the board

“Allen,” says the Market Master. “Four on the bridge,” says Kat, of Symbols in Art. Her answer will soon change to “Two in the circle” because she likes to set up outside when the weather warms up.

The Market Master continues down the list and the board fills with seniority numbers on the spaces. There’s a list of vendors above the board, so you can see which name goes with which number, and their product.

There are some rules to follow, and a lot of etiquette: don’t set up too close to a vendor with the same type of product as you, don’t ‘squeeze’ someone by taking a space next to them if there’s lots of room that day (near-neighbors share a vacant space between them, and extra space means a bigger, better display and potentially better sales). In choosing spaces we also, of course, consider personalities. Who will be a good neighbor? It helps the day go well if you’re next to friends, or at least friendly vendors.

A short while later the Market Master says “Pass up the third sheet,” meaning  the last of the clipboards on which we sign in, and I know my turn is coming. “Roscoe,” says the Market Master. “Calling,” I say, because that day I’m ‘doubling’.

First, second and third sheet

Many vendors do this to make it easier and more economical to run our businesses. It means running two booths next to each other. In my case I trade off a day with my studio partner Lynn of PingiHats each week. I sell for her, she sells for me, which gives us more precious studio time. But under the Market rules I’m not allowed to pick our spaces until her name is called (my seniority number is 156, she’s 167.).

Sometimes as the Market Master gets to the newest vendors on the list the anxiety level rises noticeably and you’ll hear “Will I get in?” Unfortunately there are fewer spaces than crafts vendors. In spring the availability of crafts spaces diminishes as the number of flower vendors in the daystalls flourishes (they get precedence for a large swathe of spots, and each vendor gets double the minimum space we’re allotted).

A high-demand day like Saturday, plus lots of flowers, plus bad weather usually means the indoor crafts spots are oversubscribed, and sometimes a few – sometimes many – crafts vendors end up being shut out. It’s tough having to go home. As the weather improves into summer, and the outside spaces and the street are utilized, even the newest vendors are usually able to get a space.

Second section spaces

Roll call concludes with the Market Master asking if anyone wants to move – and we roll our eyes when that sometimes turns into a domino effect, with one shift leading to another and another. About half an hour after the bell, roll call is officially concluded when the time is written on the board, and we all take off to set up our booths for another day vending at Pike Place Market.

by Emma Roscoe, Red Delicious Bags


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