Pike Place Market

1st Ave and Pike St.
Seattle, WA 98101
http://www.pikeplacemarket.org/

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For about 30 years, I loved walking through Pike Place Market.  When we were new to Seattle and trying to keep afloat on a graduate student’s TA-ship and a part-time job, I did most of my Christmas shopping there.  I’d find fanciful earrings for my sisters, glittering fabric fish for my daughters,  hand-carved cheeseboards for my mother, bright t-shirts silk-screened with ravens capturing the sun for my beloved nephews and nieces—treasures that didn’t cost much but that grew from the hands and imaginations of our Northwest craftspeople.

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There were other treasures, too—lush bouquets of flowers; the patchwork quilt of greens, tomatoes, eggplants, corn; fresh sockeye for dinner; samples of cherries and smoked almonds; and, of course, those little donuts hot off the conveyer belt near DeLaurenti.

More than 100 years old, the Market is the place we Seattlites show off to visitors from inland universes.  It’s the place we love to meander through on a Saturday morning in October but avoid on a Saturday in July.  It’s a place of magic and industry, a temple to our rich soil and sea and the breathtaking variety of our region.  No longer able to walk through the market, I’m grateful that so much of it is accessible by wheelchair.

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That doesn’t mean, though, that all of the Market is accessible.  Any crowded place makes it challenging for wheelchair travelers to see beyond people’s knees and butts.  Even when people thoughtfully make room for you—as they almost always do—and vendors bring their wares to your hands—as they almost always will—there will be places you can’t get to and things you can’t see.

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Built in a less-wheelchair friendly time than the present,  some places in and around the market are hard to enter or impossible to navigate.  DiLaurenti, with its Italian delectables packed into tight aisles that are packed tightly with people, is no longer an option.  Le Panier’s entry steps render its deep-flavored tomato feuilletes and sweet vanilla briands off limits for wheelchair travelers travelling alone.  And forget a trip through Sur Le Table unless you can wheel yourself straight up the side of a cliff.  Cobblestone streets and steep curb ramps can also bump up the anxiety levels of a trip to the Market.

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In spite of such drawbacks, most of the pleasures of the Market are accessible if you stick to the main Market and its neighbors across the street.  A ride through the Market is still a lovely journey!

Parking:  Down the long Lenora hill toward Elliott Bay and just across Western, you can enter the parking garage on your left that is under the building that houses Cutters Crabhouse.  Situated at the north end of the Market, this may be the most expensive parking garage in Seattle, but its ease for wheelchair visitors makes it worth the extra cash to park there.   (A cheaper but steeper parking structure can be found at 1531 Western Ave.).

If you were a walker, you’d park as far south in the Lenora parking structure as you could get, walk up the steps, cross the street, and be right at the Market’s northern entrance.  In a wheelchair, you’ll be parking at the structure’s northern end.  Take one of the handicapped spaces near the elevator and ride up to the ground level.  You’ll come out in a hallway a few steps down from one of the Cutters’ entrances; turn to your right, and head out the double doors.  At the sidewalk, turn right again, and you’re a half block from the northern entrance to the Market.  If it’s a beautiful day, as it always is here in the northwest, you might stop in Victor Steinbrueck Park to take in the totem poles, whale tail sculpture, and the bay before you cross the street to the Market.

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Entrances, Elevators, and Aisles:  A simple trip through the main level of the market from the northern to the southern entrance is flat, with no stairs to worry about.  Getting to the lower levels in the market or the bathrooms from the main market area requires going down a steep ramp or taking an elevator that is somewhat challenging to find.  There is also an elevator that takes you down (or up) the Pike Place Hill Climb, a long set of stairs that lead from the Seattle waterfront to the Market.  I have not taken that elevator since I’ve been in a wheelchair, though, so I can’t vouch for it.

Restrooms:  New restrooms in the Sanitary Market Building just across the street from the main Market are easy to access and use, with more than one handicapped stall available.  These restrooms have half-doors and are sometimes a little less than shining.  Also, it is a bit of a stretch to the second toilet paper dispenser if the first one is empty.  Other than those little problems, the restrooms are fine and a welcome new addition to the Market experience.  Restrooms inside the main market area are more difficult to get to and often less clean than these new ones.

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Photos of interior space online:  Try Google Images.

Photos of entrances online:  Yes, on Google images.

Reservations taken:  None needed, unless you are going to one of the wonderful restaurants clustered around the Market.

What the wheelchair pusher has to say:  How interesting it is to walk through a solid wall of people coming toward you and to watch them move aside to let you through.  It reaffirms your faith in humanity!

There are just a few rough spots in a trip to the Market.  Curb ramps from the sidewalk onto the streets are rough and hazardous.  The sidewalks on a busy tourist day are slow-going because of crowds.  Inside the market, starting at the north end and going south, passageways are really good until you get to the first steps to the bathrooms,.  Here the pathway is a bit uneven, and it is challenging to get through.  The incline up from the Pike Place Fish Market (home of the flying fish) to DeLaurenti is smooth but steep, as is the incline from DeLaurenti to the wind-up store (The Great Wind-up).  That’s a shame, too, because the wind-up store is one of my favorite stores in the whole city!  Getting across the street at the market’s south end is difficult because it is all bricks.  Bathrooms at the Sanitary Market pose no challenges.

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