By Allison Moore Peel
This will be my eighth year as a Permit Holder at Pike Place Market. I sell my ceramic art in the day stalls which run the length of the north half of the sixth and topmost floor along this street with the same name. It’s a very big building that is built onto a cliff. The bottom floor opens to the waterfront and Western Avenue. Oh that beloved old street, Pike Place! Still paved with bumpy cobblestone-like blocks, it’s the only street in the city where pedestrians always have the right of way. It’s a teeming ecosystem of entrepreneurs and management and has, with the help of local politicians (such as Nick Licata) won a long, hard fight to exist in perpetuity, mostly free of the pressures of developers who have tried to wrest control of this unique entity which beats strong in the heart of downtown Seattle. The year was 2009 when I decided to give Pike Place Market a try. I had been selling my work at the Redmond Saturday Market for many years but needed something more to get me through late fall to early spring. I was pleased to discover there are two levels of commitment when you become a Crafts Vendor- A list and B list. First you must jury in by showing your work to a panel of market people and fellow crafters. For B list the only requirements are that you must attend 16 days from January first until April 31st. For the rest of the year you can come as often or as seldom as you want. This worked well for me for the first five years (it was 24 days required, before it got changed) but there was a catch. I couldn’t advance above number 200 if I chose to stay on B list. My first number was 26o. That means there were 259 people who could choose their space for the day before I could, (if they showed up on that day) during morning roll call. When your name is called, you call out the number and section of the space you want. You can change it before roll call is over if you see an open space that is more desirable.
Some days, particularly in the summer I might show up to sell but not get a space, or I might have to choose between taking a space in a section I wasn’t comfortable in and yelling “Scratch me off!” if I didn’t want the space. (I won’t set up on the outside slabs) After setting up in a few different sections I found myself choosing certain spots over and over again. For me, one area is the south side of ‘The Bridge’, which has a circular walk-around area named the Desimone Bridge- The entrance here is at the bottom of Stewart At. The Bridge will connect the new structure currently being built and spans Western Avenue. It houses an island of vendor spaces which detour from what is otherwise a long, straight row of all the other areas along the Main Line. And I also like to set up on the ‘Dry Side’ especially if I can get the space and am well stocked to compete with those who have been there longer and thus have solid sellers. That’s the row of tables in front of the windows that run southward and on the west side of the main line, between “the bridge” and City Fish. It is very rare that I set up anywhere else now. Also, many people with whom I like to pass the day also typically set up in my favorite areas, and it makes for fun experiences of companionship. People who sell work in the same medium always space themselves away from each other. So it actually takes a while to get to know the other clay artists. There are many I adore, but I’m sorry to say I’m the only WCA member there. The attendance requirements are demanding and I have not found it to be possible to have ‘being an A-list Permit Holder’ there, be a secondary priority in my life. Luckily, I love it!!
At first it was crazy trying to adjust the display of ceramic items for sale to a mere 4 x 3 feet of table space. (If there are empty spaces, the vendors split one between them.) It was soon obvious that I was not going to be selling big platters there with any regularity. This crafts community is largely supported on the tourist dollar and the vast majority of customers do not want to carry large or even medium sized ceramics home on an airplane. As a clay artist, the one thing I love to do the most is sculpt a highly detailed image and cast it into a plaster press mold, for stamping so I set my sights on making irresistible small treasures. The limitations of the sales space, storage, and tourist preferences have steered me towards crafting a rather resilient production line of cone 5-6 porcelain items which measure under 9 inches. I’m a tile maker too, and those are selling well to tourists. It’s fun imagining my work being appreciated in many different countries around the world! Larger things do sell sometimes, and help to fill up the table with visual interest to draw the customers over. At first it was disappointing that my refrigerator magnets were the only thing that sold really successfully. But then I was amazed to see my overhead diminish while my income remained constant. The fridge mag sales cover all my expenses and free up my time for greater things. Table fees are very inexpensive on the weekdays Monday through Thursday. I’m selling enough on those days to keep out of debt while not necessitating attendance on the more pricey weekend days. I was also having a lot of fun with my fellow vendors and exploring the market- the food! the shops! the buskers! the way everything works together to create an experience that is distinctly “Seattle”. True, there is a lot of touristy stuff being sold, but legions of highly skilled crafts people have established life-long businesses there. The minimum requirement is to sell twice a week with 8 ‘vacation’ weeks when you can skip coming in. You can consolidate the vacation weeks and take a month off if you wish, and they can also roll over to the next year if you don’t use them. The artist must attend in person one day per week and may hire an agent to sell on all other days, that is if they can make enough work to sell, and there are some businesses that are open there almost every day . This is the great benefit to the independent artist- being able to sell directly to customers any day of the week, all year long. There are many more rules which can be viewed in this document: Pike Place Market Rules . Another big plus, compared to other Farmer’s Markets where a crafts person might sell their work, is the available electric lighting and outlets. I use glazes with bright colors, and they are viewed best when there are lights to make them ‘pop’.
In 2014 I had to make a choice- join A list or get “Jumped” by 20 people who joined after me. The Market Master offered to allow being excused on the weeks I wanted to attend the Redmond Saturday Market without using up vacation weeks. So I decided to go for it. By then I had several designs selling at a regular pace, and more quite literally coming down the Pike! That year it was difficult to attend the minimum required days at Redmond (6) and in 2015 the costs for Redmond membership and booth fees increased a lot. Also it was really stressful trying to predict my readiness to schedule or cancel in advance, and with reluctance I attended Redmond twice and said my goodbyes.
I will miss that beautiful market. But now my number is 180 at Pike Place, and I have a locker space where I can store my work. I walk over to Othello station and am whisked in to the city and back, on Light Rail for only $5 on most days I attend. I can run in stock at other times to avoid the parking fees. I start each day at Pike Place with my heart filled with gratitude- I’m lucky my work is a good fit, because some people really struggle just to stay afloat there. Last year I really dialed it back- making enough cash to manage the parameters of my life, in a shorter amount of time made an overhaul and expansion of my studio, and time for permaculture projects around the house- possible. This year I’m looking forward to having more time and space to focus on creating my ceramic art!