Voice: How Can We Clean Up Pike Place Market?

Something smells fishy at Pike Place--and it's not the salmon

By Seattle Mag December 31, 1969

This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Seattle magazine.

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Something smells fishy at Pike Place–and it’s not the salmon

Street Smart
My parents almost bought one of those million-dollar condos smack dab in the heart of the Pike Place Market recently, but backed out at the last minute. They walked away for a number of reasons, none of which included a strip club on one side of the building and a needle exchange on the other (but did include a steep dive in real estate values, bad lighting, no outside living space and an overall feeling that the place wasn’t worth a million-five in today’s market). 

If I were making the decision, I’d have bailed for one and only one reason: The Pike Place neighborhood smells funny—and not just because of the distinct odor of urine or the salty fish aroma from our favorite salmon tossers. The area has been overrun by winos, drug addicts and deranged homeless types who make you think twice about breaking out the Fendi wallet to buy a bouquet from an old-school flower vendor.

The other night I was at a Market kitchen store checking out its Ginsu knives; walking back to the car at sunset was downright scary. Two twitchy characters paced in front of the wine shop, a woman pushing a shopping cart full of her belongings ran over my foot, and a Russian mafia thug was shaking down the Real Change vendor for the little change he’d managed to collect. I hate to complain about our iconic farmers’ market, but if I—and my fairly fit 190 pounds—felt uncomfortable walking around at dusk, I know how my septuagenarian folks would have felt carrying their Copper River salmon and fresh baguettes back to the condo at nightfall.

Before you think this is some sort of Dick Cheney rant aimed at making the rich richer and placing the poor out of sight, let me be clear: My ultimate goal is to help my hometown improve for the common masses while cleaning up the streets. Look, I like winos as much as the next guy and think the homeless with mental illness, drug addictions and bad dentistry deserve serious aid—which is why I truly believe we need to relocate these folks (any Native Americans among them for a second time)—into swank taxpayer-funded lofts. Not the answer, you say? Then let’s discuss a realistic solution.
The fact is that life on the streets (or in cars, dumpsters, meth dens or tent cities) sucks. More often than not, I can step over and around drunks and disturbed hobos, and bypass panhandlers—but I no longer want to. Looking the other way is lousy citizenship. In the end, who will represent the destitute? Who are their true advocates? It very well may have to be selfish individuals like me, simply tired of seeing the plight of these poor folks as they block the entrance to the original Starbucks location.

Pike Place has always been a bit urine-stained. If it hadn’t been for Steinbrueck and company in the ’70s, New York developers would have mowed down the whole market for a hockey arena, high-end condos and mini-marts galore. Now that it’s a historic landmark, let’s do something historic to make the place habitable again.

Where to start? How about brainstorming at Lowell’s over a bloody Mary with the new mayor, low-income-housing advocates and the Tent City folks? Be sure to invite any homeless guy you run into along the way—no one needs a veggie-filled beverage more, and we’ll want his input to figure out a working solution.

Both the Market and Pioneer Square are filled with the downtrodden—many of whom are mentally ill, long-lost veterans and senior citizens in need of help (and deserving of a better life). This is the heart of our city, and right now we’re not showing much heart to the tourists and citizens of this great metropolis.

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