On Sunday, a day that the market is usually choked with tourists, vendor Mike Osborn’s throaty voice could be heard booming across Sosio’s produce, a space packed with fruit and vegetable stands and lit by a row of hanging lamps.
The rest of Pike Place Market was mostly darkened and empty, but Osborn’s busy employees were distributing samples from freshly cut fruit with gloved hands while longtime patrons perused Osborn’s many varieties of mushrooms.
“He’s still here, the market is trying to survive,” said shopper Yuko Abe who has been coming to Sosio’s for a decade. “What can we do? We can come here and shop.”
The produce stand has been around for more than 60 years — and, like the meat vendors, seafood joints and bakeries in the market, it’s considered an essential business and remains open during the COVID-19 public-health emergency. So far, despite Sosio’s devoted patrons and employees, business was about 25% to 30% down, Osborn estimated.
The flower farmers who are Osborn’s neighbors and colleagues in the market haven’t been so lucky, so Osborn is buying their bouquets and selling them at his shop. He’s added a $15 charge on the bouquets. That surcharge will go to the Pike Place Market Foundation’s Community Safety Net fund and, he said, “everybody is happy to pay.”
It’s just one of the ways the iconic, 112-year-old market has kept itself — and the city — alive. Other vendors are doing curbside pickups or trying to avoid third-party food takeout platforms by coordinating with one another online.
On a dance break with a group of teens who brought a speaker into her dairy-themed store, Pike Place Market Creamery’s Nancy Nipples (a.k.a. Nancy Douty when she’s not in the market) said she doesn’t have a computer at her store. That morning Sosio’s was willing to sell her dairy with a card machine and give her the cash. She’s got a phone, though, and she’s taking orders.
“The customers we have have been so amazingly supportive,” she said. One of them offered to make her a big sandwich board for the sidewalk to let passersby know Pike Place Market Creamery was still open.
Across the street, the famous Pike Place Fish Market had closed for a break on Sunday after a week of doing curbside, no-contact fish deliveries into people’s cars. The fish market, which was sold by longtime owner John Yokoyama to four employees two years ago, already has a strong online business of its own, but during the crisis decided to team up with other market vendors to sell their products directly to consumers, co-owner Ryan Reese said.
“We’re all just bootstrapping right now and trying to provide a safe place where people can support community, food and community businesses,” Reese said.
Piroshky Piroshky owner Olga Sagan spearheaded that effort last week when the market’s public-development authority notified vendors that all nonessential services were to close. Within a week, she had launched a new business: Catch22Delivery, “a website full of websites” that people can order from directly.
“It was such a silly idea, and I can’t believe we’re pulling it off,” she said.
The idea popped up during a brainstorm session with a nearby business owner about what to do during the crisis. Sagan was bemoaning local businesses’ reliance on third-party platforms to deliver food to customers, she said.
“We have third-party platforms, but it’s expensive,” Sagan said. “I wish people would just use our platform because we can deliver ourselves.”
Sagan already had delivery drivers and vehicles for her Piroshky Piroshky locations. And she already had a website. So she decided to try it.
“And it’s insane,” Sagan said. “We have 3,500 new visitors today and 2,500 visitors last night.”
Now, the site has a backlog of 45 more businesses waiting to join. “I myself am kind of shocked,” Sagan said. She isn’t charging the other businesses anything extra to use it.
But that’s just one of the online efforts. Jonathan Flack, a market resident and longtime shopper, is approaching market vendors about another online option. He and Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis are trying to create a new portal for people to shop from market vendors with one shopping cart, similar to Amazon. They’re calling it the Market Vendors’ Cooperative.
“None of us are doing this for any money,” Flack said. “We’re all doing this pro bono.”
The strength of the community is one reason Osborn, of Sosio’s, isn’t fazed by the virus.
“I’ve been here 46 years,” Osborn said. “To be part of the generosity and the community — it’s just overwhelming.”