So, You Want to Open a Store at Pike Place Market?

The hoops are many and the hurdles are high. Still, totally worth it, says Rachel Marshall, founder of Rachel's Ginger Beer.

COMMUNITY ENDEAVOR: Rachel Marshall says the market’s rules are demanding — and numerous — but  being accepted into the fold, she says, is like “hitting the jackpot.” Photo by Andrea Coan.

This article appears in print in the March 2018 issue, as part of the cover story, "The Pike Place Market Economy." Click here for a free subscription.

Establishing a business in Pike Place Market is no easy task. Rachel Marshall, founder of Rachel’s Ginger Beer, discovered as much when she applied to occupy the space Seattle’s Best Coffee surrendered in 2014.

“They were explicit about how complex the process would be,” Marshall recalls. “It’s not arbitrary. It felt like there were 97 steps and you couldn’t skip any of them.”

The Pike Place Market Historical Commission presented the major hurdle. Some members objected to Marshall’s owning Montana, a bar on Capitol Hill where her ginger beer is sold. Some worried she wouldn’t be able to manage two enterprises. Others felt the Montana bar and a separate wholesale operation in Georgetown violated the prohibition against a new shop’s being a branch of an existing business started elsewhere. (When Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell tried to purchase the space that had housed Marché, formerly Campagne, Marshall recalls the effort was nixed because Stowell already owned so many other restaurants in town. She wonders if this rule doesn’t hurt the market by barring people who have experience.)

Authorities granted Marshall an exception to the rule against neon signs because the Seattle’s Best Coffee coffee-cup sign was already a familiar part of the market. Then-Executive Director Ben Franz-Knight thought the Rachel’s sign looked like a bottle containing a urine sample, Marshall says. “He wanted ginger roots or ginger flowers on the sign, but I didn’t budge.”

Marshall also managed to persuade the commission to let her sell T-shirts, mugs and hats. “The PDA is made up of a lot of current vendors at the market,” Marshall explains. “If I do well, we do well. And if we do well, everyone is happy.” 

But Marshall says she gave in on virtually everything else. She had to attend numerous meetings with her architect in tow, paying for all those billable hours as well as for more than a dozen redesigns. One member of the commission decided a sign above the shop would look better if the words were placed right of center. During installation, the sign company made a mistake and centered them. Marshall thought it looked better that way, but within hours she was notified of the infraction and the words had to be moved to the right. A mural by local artist Stacey Rozich featuring her characteristic images of human bodies with animal heads had to be “softened” because someone on the commission “thought they were mean looking.” 

For all the trouble, though, Marshall says she has no regrets. “If the historic commission tells you to jump, you say, ‘How high?’ Because being in Pike Place Market is the promised land. It’s the single biggest piece of luck in my life. You get a captive audience of 15 million. Who goes to a ginger beer store? People in Pike Place Market do. That’s why the rules didn’t bug me. I hit the jackpot.” 

Read the rest of the cover story here.

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