For vendors of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, COVID was yet another test of survival – Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii 2021-10-21 07:05:00 –

Seattle >> Like many vendors in Pike Place Market, Scott Chan doesn’t know when his business will return to its pre-COVID normal state.

Indeed, this summer welcomed tourists and locals to Seattle’s outdoor landmarks. Sales of See Lee Gardens, a flower business owned by Chan’s family, are almost back to what they were before the pandemic closed the picturesque stalls and shops of Warren on the market.

But See Lee’s rebound has another, more solemn reason. Some competing flower vendors haven’t returned to the market or are only here a few days a week. They are currently selling at other stores that don’t require long commute to downtown Seattle.

Even Chan, for the first time, sells some of his flowers elsewhere as a hedge against future COVID-related turmoil.

“We’re not leaving Pike Place,” says Chan, 36, who has been hosting his family business since the 1980s. But the pandemic was “a big eye-opener to look elsewhere.”

Fifty years after the Pike Place Market was about to be demolished in the name of progress, vast institutions face another, more complex enemy.

Many of the more than 500 companies in the market recorded strong sales this summer, but visitor numbers are still below 2019 levels. Many vendors and farmers are still working to save time, with dozens of people coming back or facing head-on.

“It’s really floating in the air right now,” says Jim Johnson, owner of the Olympia-based Johnson Berry Farm.

Even many of the vendors who have regained it have done so by changing the way they do business, sometimes where, in preparation for the second pandemic winter.

In summary, it shows the changes in the iconic and eclectic retail community that faced challenges before COVID. This includes labor shortages, competition from online retailers, and a surge in farmers markets in virtually every town and neighborhood.

The Pike Place Market is a reliable source of information for the region to have a completely immersive “meet the producer” experience, but “we can’t live on its own,” said the Pike Place Market Conservation and Development Agency (PDA) executive. Says director Mary Bacarella. ), 9 acres, 14 complex facilities are owned and managed. The market idiot “must adapt”.

“They hit”

Of course, that face-to-face quality is what makes Pike Place Market so deeply plagued by COVID.

Even after the state reopened unnecessary businesses in June 2020, few tourists historically provided about half of the market’s sales. According to data from the Seattle Downtown Association, a large number of loyal locals emerged, but overall visitor numbers were less than half of pre-pandemic levels until early 2021.

Fewer tourists means fewer vendors, and as a result, the market is less attractive to visitors.

“From one summer to another, it went from hundreds to tens of dollars a day,” says photographer and digital artist Daniel Fleming, 48, who has been renting a display on the market since 2007. ..

The entire market organization has shrunk. PDA revenue, which charges some tenants as a percentage of retail revenue, fell from a record $ 22.6 million in 2019 to $ 13.2 million in 2020, leading to cost savings and 15% severance of staff. I did. “They were a hit,” says Bacarella.


Recovery was slow and was brought about through both top-down relief efforts and bottom-up individual companies.

For example, PDAs provide tenants with $ 3.7 million in rental assistance. The Pike Place Market Foundation, the market’s funding arm, provided approximately $ 700,000 in SME grants. There were programs to help vendors apply for federal payroll loans, promotional campaigns for locals, and even TV ads. And despite losses and additional costs, Bacarella said the PDA still had $ 18 million in cash reserves, generating $ 11.6 million of what was expected to be $ 14.8 million as of August. say.

Meanwhile, individual companies have come up with their own adaptations. At Sound View Cafe, Alex Amon, whose family bought the place almost 30 years ago, completely redesigned the menu and made many complex high-end items “more cost-effective for us” simple choices. Replaced with.

At Cinnamon Works Bakery, owners Michael Ruegamer and Judy Beggs have saved money by doing more work on their own. For some time Judy handled all baking and sales with one hand. They also benefited from the patience of their customers. During the pandemic, Judy says, “People have learned how to wait in line.” This allowed us to run the bakery with fewer counter staff.

Like ubiquitous retailers, many market vendors have found ways to rely less on face-to-face sales. “We have definitely improved the game online,” says Devynn Patterson of Marakesh Leather, a market presence since 1971.

For vendors with little or no online presence, the PDA held a how-to webinar by some of the market’s web-savvy sellers. Jeweler Twyla Dill of Twyla Dill Design taught vendors “how to create a Shopify website from scratch”.

However, some vendors have also found ways to reduce their reliance on the market itself.

Linden-based Holmquist Hazelnut Orchard has increased sales in 16 other regional farmers markets “to regain its sluggishness.”

Seattle artist Dunn Gregory has been a day-trip vendor for almost 19 years, but the pandemic strategy was to open a nearby gallery for local artists. This currently accounts for 20% of his sales. “I didn’t know where the market was heading or where the economy was heading because I didn’t know the COVID. I felt like I had a little more control with my storefront,” he says.

New normal

On a sunny Saturday in early October, Pike Place Market seems to be as busy as ever. The streets and food stalls were crowded and noisy. Face mask aside, this may have been 2019.

But there is a difference. Due in part to the shortened cruise ship season, the number of visitors in early October was only about 75% of the 2019 level.

Most of the 222 restaurants, shops and other physical store tenants on the market have returned, but as of October 6, 69 out of 96 farmers and 147 out of 186 artisans have returned. I have come. Overall, the business community of the market is still down about 15% from 2019.

Some of the absenteeism reflects pandemic-related movements by vendors. But they also reflect long-standing challenges.

For some of the older vendors on the market, the pandemic was simply a good moment to retire. Vicky Clark Rafael, a 66-year-old jeweler living in Shoreline, has been running a display for over 40 years. She didn’t come back after the pandemic, but she was supposed to stay until she was 70, but now I’m not sure. “The whole reality of this COVID makes it very difficult to decide what to do,” she says.

The challenge for other vendors was finding enough staff to perform a full-time stall. Some say they can’t afford to pay enough to take workers downtown. Others say that the task of setting up and disassembling hundreds of pounds of products and equipment each day usually leads to high turnover.

“… It’s really hard to find someone to stay for more than a few months,” says Sweet Things Honey Farm and Herban Farms, who tend to make day trips and many farmers struggle to find and maintain Market staff. Says Nicholas Gerber, 24, who has seen this.

“There is a magic number”

Long before COVID, PDAs and vendors faced intensifying competition from online retail, the growing farmer’s market, and the improved local produce section of some grocery stores. PDA responded by helping vendors go online and launched satellite farmers markets in South Lake Union, City Hall and Virginia Mason. In addition, we have launched a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with pre-packaged produce boxes.

As the pandemic recedes, the market awaits a full recovery in the region’s tourism sector, and PDAs want to expand these efforts with local delivery services and more web support for vendors.

But given how quickly a pandemic can change course, Bacarella says the main strategy is to remain flexible enough to adapt. “That is, we were pretty confident in the summer, and with the new Delta variant, everyone had to pivot again,” she says.

For some vendors, especially those facing labor issues and worries about uneven sales, that pivot can mean leaving the market, at least until the tourism industry is fully restored. ..

“After all, there’s a magic number that you have to create to justify being there,” says hazelnut grower Holmquist. He plans to stay in the market as long as sales in the market and visitors are heading in the right direction.

Others are still trying to calculate their magic number. Jeweler Clark Rafael knows that the strong summer sales seen by many vendors do not guarantee anything to her or other vendors who are still waiting on the wings.

If you want to see if Pike Place Market is still working, she says, “basically you just have to go there and give it a try.”

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