The new State Farmers’ Market in Columbia South Carolina recently played host to the National Association of Produce Market Managers, and James Haydu, Director of Communications and Policy at the Pike Place Market in Seattle was in attendance. One of the topics of conversation was how every market has its own personality, and certainly, Pike Place is no different:
Pike Place Market is 104 years old, founded in august of 1907.
SFN: And it has such a personality, and such a reputation. I’m sure that there’s people that have never set foot in a farmers’ market in their life that come to see you.
“It is. It’s a hybrid of a lot of things, and I think that’s important to remind people. Founded as a farmers’ market, and certainly is still the largest farmers’ market in the area, with 100 farmers permitted annually. but it’s also a retail hub, with about 240 commercial businesses, mostly food related. Restaurant and food definitely drives Pike Place Market if you look at the bottom line.”
SFN: One of the things that amazes me about Pike Place when I was there is that you have accessibility issues and you have parking issues, and people still flock to you as if you were in an open corn field.
“We do. I mean we have one of the largest public markets in the country right smack dab in the middle of one of the largest cities in the country. And accessibility is an issue, Seattle is changing a lot. I like to take to my market brethren around the country, because culturally Seattle is very, very different place than the north, or the south or the mid-west even.
So, we’ve got some issues with a lot of parking going away because the current mayor has a need to get people out of their cars and onto public transit, that’s a big agenda item. So tangential issues like that, especially parking, are issues that we in management at Pike Place Market look to because we see 10 million people a year come through the place. About half of them are locals, and about half of them are tourists, some of those tourists are going to come to us by car, so it’s definitely something in the equation that I watch.”
SFN: I can imagine that it’s something that you wake up most days on your mind about it. We can’t talk about Pike Place Market without talking about the guys that throw fish.
“No, I suppose we can’t. and I have a little bit, most of it is mockery, but a little hang in my voice when I talk about it. Because Pike Place fish is clearly world famous, home of flying fish, they have a whole business aside from that wherein the guys who run the business go around the country, and sometimes around the world, and talk to big corporations and talk about team unity and management protocol. I think it’s funny that they’re wearing fish rubbers and smell like salmon and they’re talking to MicroSoft, but I guess that’s the way it works.
Pike Place Fish has only been around since 1978, '79, something like that, the current owner is the marketing genius that came up with the idea of ‘hey, let’s throw a fish when somebody buys it!’ It’s a little bit of theater, but it works very, very, very well for them .”
SFN: And he really drives traffic for your whole market.
“Oh, absolutely. There are a couple of questions people have when they come to the market, one is ‘where is the people that throw fish?’ or the first one is ‘where’s the first Starbucks?’ because the first Starbucks is there as well. Those are the two magnets at either end of our life.”