Pike Place Market in 1968 (via Seattle Municipal Archives)
The upstairs of Pike Place Market in Seattle bustles with tourists buying fresh produce and crafts, but the downstairs spills into something stranger, its walls honeycombed with shops that seem to exist in another space and time. Walking those corridors, catching glimpses of blue Puget Sound through dusty windows, it’s easy to think that nothing’s changed there for decades. And much of it hasn’t. The market as a whole is just shy of its 100th birthday: it was founded in August of 1907 by eight farmers determined to cut out greedy middleman and sell their wares directly to the public.
Plenty of other guides will tell you where to get the best cheese in the market, or when to catch the guys at Pike Place Fish Co. doing their aerial show. But here is a brief guide to the more unusual nooks and crannies of Pike Place — its uncanny corners that seem like portals into the past.
The Gum Wall
photograph by Eli Duke/Flickr
Straddling that fine line between art and public nuisance, the Gum Wall has been around since the early 1990s, when some patrons in line for an improv show at the Market Theatre got bored and decided to squish their gum against the brick wall. Somehow the practice took off, and the blobs of gum in all shapes and colors festoon a long expanse of wall that continues into a nearby alley. The gum has been scraped off several times, but around 1999, market authorities decided to preserve it as an attraction. It’s now a frequent stop for tour groups, and the first location for one of the market’s many ghost tours. It’s also a strangely popular place for wedding photos.
photograph by David Fulmer/Flickr
photograph by Rubert Ganzer/Flickr
photograph by Joe Mabel/Wikimedia
Giant amber jars filled with herbs, hundreds of bottles of essential oils, and packets of incense from all over the world crowd the mysterious Tenzing MoMo shop, which always seems more dimly lit than the rest of the market. Knowledgable staff will custom-blend teas and oils, and on-site tarot readers tend to more metaphysical problems.
Pike Place Magic Shop
The exterior of the Pike Place Magic Shop (photograph by the author)
Said to be the longest-running magic shop in the Pacific Northwest, the Pike Place Magic Shop is coated with images of legendary early 20th-century magicians such as Claude Alexander Conlin, better known as Alexander, “The Man Who Knows.” Budding magicians will find plenty of supplies and props, while the merely curious can peruse gag gifts, antique books, and postcards. Outside, a giant folder holds stacks of beautiful vintage posters for old magic shows, and a mysterious mannequin will tell your fortune for 50 cents.
Pike Place Magic Shop fortune-telling automaton (photography by author)
Old Seattle Paperworks
photograph by stereogab/Flickr
Opened in 1976 by a former rare book dealer, Old Seattle Paperworks is a browser’s delight, stuffed with old postcards, posters, advertisements, magazines, photographs, and other forms of ephemera. Whether it’s aviation history, old medical ads, or vintage pin-ups you’re after, they’ll have it. They even had the entire Seattle Public Library’s collection of old out-of-town newspapers at one point, although it’s not clear how well they fit into the 500-square-foot shop.
Giant Shoe Museum
Giant Shoe Museum (photograph by author)
The colorful hand-painted façade next to Old Seattle Paperworks, built in 1997 by local graphic artist Sven Sundbaum, holds a mini-museum devoted to novelty shoes. At the Giant Shoe Museum, guests can peer into brass eyepieces and, for a quarter, see a shoe “actually worn by the world’s tallest man,” which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, was Robert Wadlow. They can also read all about a pair of Wadlow’s shoes that went missing, and for which there is a thousand-dollar reward.
The Great Wind-Up
photograph by Lord Enfield/Flickr
Do you need a potato gun? A wind-up sad cat? Bandages that display Shakespearean insults? Bacon-related accessories? The Great Wind-Up, a combination toy store and kids museum, features a wide selection of wind-up and animated toys, both new, vintage, and collectible. A great place to regress to your childhood. You can even race the wind-up toys.
Heaven’s Gate Cult Floor Tile
photograph by Jason Brackins/Flickr
In 1985, before the mass suicide they thought would allow them to board a UFO trailing a comet, the Heaven’s Gate cult was one of thousands of donors who purchased a floor tile in the market. The tile campaign raised $1.6 million for renovations, although it’s not clear what inspired the alien-obsessed cult to donate. The tile is on the upper floor of the market, near the produce stands.
Carved Sasquatch Statue
Sasquatch statue by Richard Beyer (photograph by the author)
On the North wall of the Economy Atrium building, beneath a sculpture of a young squid dangling from the ceiling, stands a seven-foot tall Sasquatch carved in the 1970s. The artist, Richard W. Beyer, once sold miniature versions from a stall in the market. (Beyer also created Fremont’s famous “People Waiting for the Interurban” sculpture, in 1978.) The mythical creature is supposed to have brought well-being to local tribes, and reflected the terrifying power of the forest.
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