Pike Place Market: Magic in the Heart of the City

An edited version of this essay appeared in the program for Left Coast Crime 2024: Seattle Shakedown, held April 11-14 in Bellevue, Washington. There wasn’t time for me to take readers to the Market and show them some of the places I love, so I’m grateful to have been asked to contribute this piece. (All the photos are mine.)

Pike Place Market: Magic in the Heart of the City, by Leslie Budewitz

“This market is yours. It is here to stay and there is no influence, no power, no combination and no set of either political or commercial grafters that will destroy it.”
—Seattle City Councilman Thomas Revelle, dedicating Pike Place Market on November 30, 1907

I fell in love with Seattle’s Pike Place Market as a wide-eyed college freshman just a few years after residents voted to save the Market from “urban removal.” It was funky and vibrant, and I adored every inch of it. I made it my mission to eat my way through the place, and since it’s constantly changing, I’ll never be finished.

In the late 1970s, not every corner was clean; not every pillar and post stood upright. The Market is an amalgam of buildings erected over the decades bearing history-laden names like the Economy Market, the Sanitary Market (no horses allowed!), and the Soames/Dunne Building. Suburban growth and the economic downturn that hit the city hard had taken their toll. Many farm stalls and shop fronts stood empty. Some days, it’s said, pigeons outnumbered potatoes.

Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?
—1970s billboard

After a years-long public campaign, voters approved the creation of the Pike Place Market Historical District in 1971, later the first mixed residential and commercial use project named to the National Historic Register. The mission was clear: Preserve Seattle’s history. Foster the direct link between the region’s farmers and food producers to the community they fed. Provide public services and low income housing. And do it with Northwest style!

And while the Market was coming back to life, a few ghost stories emerged as well: The early Market Master who wore a top hat and loved to dance and who, some say, can still be seen dancing past upper story windows. The orphaned stable boys who slept in the hallways and now occasionally toy with shop merchandise at night. The ghosts of men murdered for bounty money who haunt the old mortuary, but are appeased by a pitcher of beer left out at night.

When I was a college kid trekking down the hill from Seattle University to prowl the cobbled streets, behind-the-scenes renovations were upgrading the structures and utilities. The Preservation and Development Authority was busy ensuring that farmers could sell their produce, fishermen their catch, bakers their breads and rolls. The PDA helped stabilize and grow existing businesses and incubate new ones. They created the network of arts and crafts vendors who fill the daystalls in the Main Arcade, and established funding sources for the community foundation that provides social services.

Later, as a young lawyer working downtown, I developed a simple routine: Twice a week, I walked to the Market. Bought a slice of pizza at DeLaurenti’s on the corner of First and Pike. Stood at the newsstand browsing newspapers and magazines from around the world with my eyes—hands off until my pizza was gone. Strolled down to Market Spice for a sample cup of tea redolent with orange and cloves. Watched salmon fly at Pike Place Fish, where men (and later women) in rubber boots and aprons sang, joked, and tossed the catch threw the air. (“Crab for Montana!” they called back and forth when my visiting mother made a purchase. She was mortified and delighted.) I tasted food and flavors I had never known.

Then I went in search of a cookie, nibbling while listening to street-corner musicians, marveling at the man who rolled his painted piano along the sidewalks. I bought books and scarves from merchants in the lower levels known as “Down Under” and earrings and a Hmong quilted pillow from Market artists. I bought fruit and vegetables, bread and cheese and coffee, and occasionally, flowers.

The Market is home to more than seventy-five farmers, two hundred shops and restaurants, two hundred craftspeople known as daystallers, a score or more of buskers ranging from musical trios to balloon artists, and nearly five hundred residents, all on nine acres. Not to mention ten million visitors a year.
Between a Wok and a Dead Place, by Leslie Budewitz

As Seattle has changed, so has the Market. Neighborhood groceries offer more variety than in years past. Weekend farmers’ markets dot the city. But Pike Place—which is both the main street and the name locals use—continues to thrive. The focus remains a direct-to-consumer farm connection, served up alongside a dizzying array of shops and restaurants. Artistic delight has become a bigger part of the experience. Light fixtures take the shape of cast aluminum figures who climb the walls, globes in hand. Tile walls celebrate flora and fauna. No one knows the point of the disgusting bit of psychogrunge that is the Gum Wall, but it adds color and story nonetheless.

My Spice Shop mysteries are an example of the urban or city-based cozy, a subgenre built around a community within a community. The Market embodies that perfectly. My goal has always been to convey the literal and figurative flavor of the place. To create a world where the reader can taste the food, meet the people, and smell the salt air tinged with coffee and salmon, all while absorbed in a mystery that means something, in a story that could be set nowhere else.

“It’s the Market. Anything can happen here.”
—Pepper Reece, in Assault and Pepper, by Leslie Budewitz

After more than a century, Pike Place Market remains the heart and soul of Seattle—and its stomach. I hope you’ll make a visit while you’re here, on foot or on the page, to experience the magic for yourself.

Leslie Budewitz lives and writes in NW Montana, but a piece of her heart will always walk beside the ghosts along the cobbles of Pike Place.

Saturday Creativity Quote — on community

In April, I went to both Left Coast Crime, the mystery fan convention held in late winter or spring somewhere in the West, and Malice Domestic, the fan convention celebrating the traditional mystery held in Bethesda, Maryland the last weekend in April. Two weeks apart — remind me not to do that again. But it was great fun. (More photos below.)

Nominees for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel (clockwise from lower left: Korina Moss, Tara Laskowski (winner), Annette Dashofy, Ellen Byron, Leslie Budewitz (moderator), and Gigi Pandian)

I love meeting readers in person, and both cons are great opportunities for that. It’s also wonderful to hear authors, readers, booksellers, and editors speak on panels about various aspects of the writing craft, bookselling, and publishing. The conversations over coffee or dinner and in the hallways are priceless, especially for a writer like me who is happier and healthier because I spend most of my time alone with people who only exist because I made them up.

I always come home exhausted, but inspired. Inspired to read more, write better, connect with more readers and writers. No doubt that’s why I reached for a notebook during Nina Simon’s remarks on accepting the Lefty for Best Debut for Mother-Daughter Murder Night, when she said “Creativity comes from the community.”

It does, doesn’t it? From our brains and hearts, but in communication with all we experience and all those we connect with.

On this writing journey of yours, don’t go it alone. Create a community, online or in person, with others who care about books and creative work just as you do. Nurture it. You — and your readers — will be happy you did.

Join the fun next year! Registration is open for both Malice and LCC.

Three Sisters in Crime presidents! Past President Lori Rader-Day (2019-20), me (2015-16), and current president Kelly Oliver

The Saturday Creativity Quote

“[Maggie’s] hand closed around the library card. She had placed it under her pillow, as if it were a love token, or a guarantor of pleasant dreams. What else did you use a library card for, if not to borrow stories? Some of which might have a happy ending.”

Mick Herron, This Is What Happened (2018)

Herron was the International Guest of Honor at Left Coast Crime 2022. I hadn’t known his work, though his series that begins with Slow Horses is the basis for the new Apple TV series starring Gary Oldman. I picked up this book, a standalone, and read it in two settings. In context, the quote isn’t purely a ponder on the glory of libraries, but doesn’t mean quite what you think, i

The Saturday Creativity Quote

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing tidbits of wisdom that caught my ears and attention at Left Coast Crime 2022, the mystery and crime fiction convention held this year in early April in Albuquerque.

“A good story isn’t about what happens. It’s about who it happens to.”

— William Kent Krueger, talking specifically about This Tender Land (2019). Kent’s novel, Lightning Strike, won the 2022 Lefty Award for Best Novel.

Writing Wednesday – The Power of Community

Leslie’s desk

I’m just back from Albuquerque and Left Coast Crime, one of the three main fan conventions in mystery and crime fiction. And next week, I’m headed to Bethesda, MD, for Malice Domestic. My first conventions in three years! I found myself both unsure and excited. Unsure what to pack. How many bookmarks do I need? How many pairs of shoes? What am I forgetting, besides my mind?

And excited to see my community. Readers, writers, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, people in the publishing business. People who love curling up with a good book—and who love getting together with others to talk about the experience.

One of my writing communities has long been Sisters in Crime and the Guppies chapter, which I helped start. In 2014, SinC published a book called Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, ed. by Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Writes of Passage

My essay is titled “Group Power, For the Writer Alone in Her Room.” I was reminded of it recently when a member of an online writers’ group I’m in said of the cons, “I’m not sure I could do that. I’m an introvert.” Let me share this passage:

“I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown Books, 2012). Like most writers, I’m an introvert, albeit a noisy one, or maybe an ambivert. Cain contends that most institutions in our culture—schools, corporations, even churches—push extroversion and emphasize group activities and teamwork. That emphasis often results in forming a group to tackle a problem, whether that’s really the best solution or not, and discounts key natural strengths of introverts. But while introverts need quiet time—alone in our rooms, with the voices and stories in our heads—we also like to cooperate. We value each group member’s voice, and we encourage innovation.

“That’s what makes the writers’ group so powerful. A group can help us learn new information or sift through it. SinC’s Guppies chapter thrives on that principle, with subgroups for those seeking an agent, learning Scrivener, and setting goals. A dozen writers in my neck of the woods recently formed a business and marketing group. The writer experienced with Mail Chimp presented a tutorial for would-be newsletter authors terrified by the specter of yet more technology. Those without Facebook or Twitter accounts met at a café with wifi and walked through the setup together. I helped the group learn to use our Word Press blog and conduct a blog tour. We teach, puzzle, brainstorm—and toast sales with champagne.

What groups do best, in my ambiverted opinion, is encourage its members and leverage information. Every opportunity and accomplishment I’ve had as a writer started with something I learned from a group. And with SinC and the Guppies, I didn’t even have to put on shoes.”

I do hope you’ll put on shoes and go find your community—on line or when the time is right for you, in person. And if you’re at Malice, please introduce yourself. Just don’t say anything about my shoes.

The Last Best Book — The Last Death of Jack Harbin

last-death-225-shadowAn occasional series in which I share a recent read I loved. 

The Last Death of Jack Harbin: A Samuel Craddock Mystery by Terry Shames (Seventh Street Books, 2014)

I picked this book up for two reasons: Author Terry Shames was the moderator for a panel discussion on small town crime that I participated in at the Left Coast Crime mystery convention in Portland, March 12-15, and I like to be familiar with the work of others on the panel. And her first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, won the 2014 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery and was nominated for the 2013 Left Coast Crime Best First award. As a Best First winner myself (Death al Dente won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First novel), I love reading other new writers.

But even before I met her, I knew Terry Shames was an old hand. Why she hadn’t been published before, I have no idea, but this is a writer with great control. Samuel Craddock is the retired police chief of Jarrett Creek, Texas, a fairly recent widow with a bad knee and a reputation as a kind man who gets to the bottom of things. In The Last Death of Jack Harbin, we meet a cast of characters who have run up against some of life’s rougher edges. Some respond better than others, of course, letting their scars make them more human, gentler rather than harsher. It’s this variety of responses that I most enjoyed in Shames’ novel.

I have not been to Texas, but I feel I know Jarrett Creek. People are people pretty much everywhere, but they have their own local variations, and Shames portrays them clearly—they are recognizable without being cliched. Small town relationships and routines, the importance of high school sports even 20 plus years later, the military veterans, the religious fanatics, the men and women who fall beneath the cracks and the men and women who pick them up. They’re all here.

As I said, control is the Shames’ hallmark. There’s a little violence, yes, but only what’s needed. Emotion, setting, clear and vibrant language, backstory—we’re given pretty much all we need to understand these characters, and nothing superfluous. The mystery is solid; the secrets of the past keep coming. And Samuel Craddock is a crackerjack of a character.

Take the trip to Jarrett Creek. If you like a good mystery, I think you’ll be glad you did.