A guy’s view on shopping at the Market

As a market vendor I have 7 years in experience observing the way men shop in the market. Being a guy my own approach to buying parallels that of many other men.  In my own business we cultivate repeat business. If a gift works well for a guy, he will likely return to the store for further purchases. My wife and I make one of a kind pieces, so the retention of repeat customers is high.

Men generally shop with the swiftness of assassins. Of course, you will find indecisive specimen among us, but most of the time shopping keeps us from other activities, so it must happen quickly. We generally know what we are specifically looking for,  so it is mostly seek and buy. Shopping as a recreation is not really a guy thing.  Sometimes men are uncomfortable shopping in department stores or boutiques. Those types of stores are not necessarily environs where we feel at ease. The market is a uniquely laid back place where you can find a wide range of things in one place. It also allows people to meet the craftsperson or artist and make informed buys.

Growing up with an older sister, I have spent countless hours being dragged along while my mother and sister shopped endlessly from store to store. The market provides many stalls and fixed businesses that appeal to the average guy. We have several vendors that produce excellent woodwork. Their work ranges from hand wrought stools, cutting boards, boxes, long boards to cribbage boards. My friend Joseph of Swanfield Horn & Stone Craft makes obsidian knives with hand carved handles. If you’re in the market for more modern blades we also have Seattle Cutlery in the market.  They sell specialty blades from kitchen to tactical knives.

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Joseph of Swanfield Horn & Stone Craft
obsidian knives with hand carved handles

Guys will always gravitate towards food offerings in the Pike Place Market.  For years Don & Joe’s Meats have been my preferred butchers. They also have great frozen bones for your dogs, just ask. Tourists are always fascinated by the goings on at Pike Place Fish. We also have three more fishmongers in the market. As a former commercial fisherman, I prefer my fish not going airborne. Beecher’s Cheese is a great place to eat, but it is also fun to watch their cheese production in action. There are also several wine shops in the market. The deli Pear has a great selection of domestic craft beers and imports. They also carry wine and great foods to accompany those beverages. Countless specialty foods can be found throughout the market.

For the shopping weary guy the market provides many choices in bars and restaurants for a beer or cocktail.  On warm days you can even find an outside spot to rest and have a drink.  Several pubs and restaurants provide al fresco seating for patrons. I have directed many husbands to various watering holes in the market, while their wives continue their shopping.

For many men traveling on business, the market provides a great place to purchase anything from a tourist t-shirt to fine art. We are walking distance from many downtown hotels. We are often the last place for businessmen to shop before heading for the airport. Our location and diversity make it very guy friendly. They are in and out like trained assassins.

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Pear Delicatessen
Local and Import Beer

 Ron Sabando, Sabando Design

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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

In the deep midwinter

January at Pike Place Market. The lights and crowds of Christmas are gone. The rain or snow is falling. It’s midwinter and the Pike Place Producers have been taking some downtime.

After the crazy holiday season weeks of long hours at our booths and in our studios, many artists and crafters take a very welcome break. It’s time to recharge and regroup.

Some go on vacation, many enjoy a staycation. We make up for time not spent with family, friends and pets. We revive our social lives, check out the Oscar-contending movies and finally get to that pile of books that’s been untouched since October.

After a bit of a break, we go back to our studios and work benches with enthusiasm: it’s the ideal time to work out fresh designs and get to grips with new techniques and skills, ready to debut our new products as the crowds begin to return in Spring.

It’s catch-up time. We update our websites and rejig our business cards, file some paperwork, update the books, start on taxes.

We took a break from the Pike Place Producers blog too. The time off was welcome, but now it’s February and we’re back.

by Emma Roscoe, Red Delicious Bags

Life in the key of Pike

Across from my booth - An impromptu singing of "Arirang" by a visiting Korean Choral Group.

Many of us have a soundtrack playing in the back of our mind as we go through the day. My summer soundtrack at Pike Place Market is often the chaotic hum of the market itself. I set my business up on the sidewalk in close proximity to cars, motorcycles, ambulances, duck tours quacking, dogs whining, balloons popping, babies crying, the back end of buses grating on the cobblestones of the steep hill behind me. The indigent hawk newspapers – “REAL CHANGE to help the homeless.” Buskers play accordions. Firetruck closes in. Siren wails. Horn blasts until your head hurts. I don’t even lift my eyes to watch as it careens through the intersection never slowing, racing through people who grab children, pets and parcels as they scatter in its wake.

So, while setting up my booth the other day I was pleasantly surprised to have “Abraham, Martin and John” pop into my head.  Something peaceful, smooth. Now, how does it go?

Has anybody seen my old friend Abraham? Can you tell me…

“How far is it to the Space Needle? Monorail? Waterfront? Where’s the statue of Jimi Hendrix? What’s good to eat around here?” Oooh. That last question is always difficult to answer with so many choices.

He freed a lot of people but it seems the good they die young.  I look around…

Pink Umbrella Girl marches by with a tour group speaking loudly in a language I don’t recognize. Making a sweeping motion with one arm like an American football player making a pass and pointing southward into the market, I surmise her wish to convey “that is where they throw the fish”.

Has anybody here seen my old friend John? Can you tell me where he’s…

Husband “Geez, these are beautiful !” Wife “If you get something you need to know where you’re going to put it.” They turn and walk down the sidewalk, husband promising over his shoulder “I’ll be back”.

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin? Can you tell me where he’s gone. He freed a lot of people but the good they seem to…

“How much for the teepee?” $45. My friend Sharon makes them. She went to get some coffee. I’m happy to help you. We set up next to each other all of the time. It takes a village. She sells an art tile for me. I sell a teepee for her.

Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me? And soon we’ll be…

“I’ll take this Hamsa.” Perfect. Let me wrap that up for you.

Someday soon and it’s gonna be some day…

A mob of uniformed Japanese schoolgirls surrounds a mounted police officer. Chattering, squealing, giggling pictures with his horse. Iguanas on shoulders, ducks in arms, dogs in strollers, babies on leashes. Gold-man on a box. Mirror-man clanking, Wedding parties swishing. “Where’s the first Starbucks? What’s with the pig? I thought it always rained in Seattle? Where can I buy a sweatshirt?” Old man plays a sitar in the park.

I sit under my sunflower umbrella and hum along.

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Kat Allen, Symbols in Art

Modified from original blog posts in “What Comes Down Pike and Pine”

I was here the other day looking for you. Where were you?

The Market Master conducts morning roll call for the craftspeople.

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.

Originally posted on my blog: Soaping in the Rain.