Posted by Pete DeLaunay on Jul 22, 2021
The Pike Place Market is America’s longest continually running farmers market - established in 1907.  COVID changed everything for the market’s vendors as they traversed how to continue in business.  As executive director of the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority (PDA) since 2017, Mary Bacarella oversees the market’s 500 small businesses – farmers, day-stallers, and brick and mortar retailers - but did not expect 16 months of pandemic related restrictions.  
Ken Grant served as an interviewer for the day’s featured program asking Mary, first about the difference between the Pike Place Market PDA and Pike Place Market Foundation, led by Rotarian Lillian Sherman.    “The PDA oversees the nine acres of the market’s historic district running the market including operations…or a little city inside the city,” she said.  The PDA has a staff of about 100.  The Foundation is the fundraising arm of the market. 
Her job is to oversee all of the staff and serve as an advocate for the market with local government and operations including 24-hour security staff and all things that form the market’s small city.  “It changed quite a bit during COVID,” she said.  “It is a complicated job that involves many different aspects of the market.”
The COVID pandemic changed everything for the market.  Events were planned while Seattle experienced its first COVID casualty; and after that everything changed.  “Talking to our 500 small businesses was a real challenge having to shut the market, except for essential businesses during quarantine,” she said. “Everybody was doing things to adjust and learn what it meant to be in a pandemic.”
The worst moment during COVID was trying to figure out what to do. “We now have a whole book about what do to in a pandemic”, she said.  People looked to the market to be their touchstone during the COVID quarantine…although 35 essential businesses remained open providing groceries and other services to the market’s neighborhood.   Now, 97% of the market’s businesses are open.
The market adjusted with masking and entrance/exit signage.  Meanwhile tracking who was infected and who was not in the market’s residential buildings was a priority.
The market had to rebuild during the waning days of COVID.  All money to run the market comes from rent and parking fees, with no operating money from the city.  During COVID no one was paying rent along with 800 vacant parking stalls.  All capital projects were suspended.  Because the market is a public entity, no grants were available, so $2.2M in labor were cut by reducing salaries and laying people off and all expenses; while the PDA tapped its operating reserves.  The PDA gave $3.6M rent credits over the last 16 months, waived fees, and put out tenant alerts about new ordinances, new grants, and online classes on how to apply for a city, state, and federal grants.
The market’s essential businesses that could stay open, would buy flowers from farmers and tried so many different things to keep the market going to help other tenants through COVID.
“The COVID pandemic was the most difficult thing I had to deal with as I looked down the street and saw nothing,” she said, “whereas today parking stalls are full the cruise business is back and nothing in my career compared to getting through a pandemic.”  
The day’s short program featured Eric Christensen who chairs our club’s environmental sustainability committee and one of the areas of emphasis for the Rotary Foundation.  His committee is a small but dedicated group to keep environmental sustainability thriving in our club.  It means that all concerned including future generations.  The committee has sponsored SRF grants over the years including ‘Tiny Trees’, and outdoor pre-school to learn about the outdoors and the environment.  An organic farm in Woodinville serves as an educational forum about organic agriculture for community colleges in the area.  The Elwa River is another area where we have provided scientific equipment.   Service projects include cleaning up the Burke-Gillman trail and other projects over the years; among many other projects the committee undertakes.  At the District level, a sustainability committee was formed for all clubs to act on environmental issues.  For Rotarians interested in joining the committee, visit the club’s member page. 
Upcoming events:
  • Walk and Talk, 6 PM to 8 PM, Thursday,  July 22. The Walk and Talk will start at the WAC and tour Pike Place Market and Belltown.
  • There will be a Happy Hour at the end of the walk. Register in advance. 
  • There will be a Work Party in Burien on July 25, between 9 a.m. to noon. Joyce Robertson is looking for 12 to 15 volunteers.
  • Consult the Seattle Rotary #4 website for more detailed information about these and other upcoming events. 
The Seattle Rotary #4 meeting with the theme of Resilience and Persistence of the Pike Place Market Through the Pandemic, adjourned at 1:30 p.m.


 Thank you Meeting Reporter Pete Delaunay!

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