There is incredible diversity behind the vendors at Pike Place Market. Some have been around the market since they were children, others are escapees from the corporate world, lifelong artists, or retirees looking for a way to express their creativity. What they all have in common is the market itself, one of the few places in the country where artists and artisans can truly make a living for themselves. Each make their own products, plan their own time, manage their own business, and take on for themselves the risks and rewards of being an entrepreneur.
My story begins with a bicycle, a beat up 15 year old mountain bike I used to commute to my corporate engineering position. A day came when it was tired, worn down, and needed replaced. But I just couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. It sat on my porch looking sad and lonely and unwanted. Every day I walked past that bike, observing the interesting shapes and beautifully machined parts that had gone into its construction. As time passed I became obsessed with turning it into functional art, and after 6 months, I built my first bicycle fork based lamp. It wasn’t my first piece of art, or even my first lamp, but it was this lamp that would change the course of my life and lead me to Pike Place Market.
Within days of making that first lamp, one of my friends offered to buy it. Then others begin requesting lamps. Eventually an online green products magazine mentioned my work and I began getting emails from people wanting bicycle based lamps and art. At the time I was a corporate mechanical engineer, a cubical dweller that hated his cubical. But all my free time was spent looking for bike parts and creating bicycle based art. I bought a house near the airport where I could run tools at night without complaints from my neighbors, started Lampcycle the business, and began selling at weekend markets and online. I quickly realized that I would be much happier as an artist and entrepreneur than I could ever be as a corporate engineer. But could I turn my bicycle art into a full time occupation? Could I really support myself?
A friend who worked as an agent at Pike Place Market convinced me that I should apply to be a vendor there. At the time I knew almost nothing about the Market and shared many of the misconceptions that the general public seem to have. I thought the vendors were mostly hobbyists and had no idea how impressive and unique the items sold there really are. Now I know that Pike Place Market is perhaps Seattle’s best business incubator! It allows artists and artisans a unique opportunity to be personally introduced to millions of potential customers. Your first year as a full time vendor, as a full time small business person, is difficult and intense. You have to learn the rules and rhythm of the market, how to make your product in volume and display it, how to interact with customers and other vendors, and how to turn a profit. And if you want to survive and grow, you have to do all this without losing your optimism and artistic integrity. Pike Place Market is a thriving microcosm of small businesses and entrepreneurial thought. It is no surprise that Starbucks started here.
After three years at the market, I have to consider my business a success. During an economic downturn I was able to successfully leave my confining corporate cubical, finding a place where I can express my creativity and control my own destiny. None of this would have been possible without the unique opportunity Pike Place Market provides. Although I still use the name Lampcycle, I mostly make and sell bicycle based clocks. I recycle for various bike shops and the city, and do all my own design work, painting, and welding. Each clock is completely unique and I do my best to maintain the lovely patinas that time and use give the parts. I can be found selling my work at Pike Place Market Friday through Monday, and can be contacted through my website www.Lampcycle.com or the Lampcycle Facebook page.