Vocalist Patti Summers set out the trays of free food at her subterranean jazz cabaret off Pike Place, then she shed her apron, climbed behind the piano, and began to make the music that has kept her joint alive 15 years. But it was more than an anniversary party Sunday night.
"Think of it as a good riddance celebration," Summers says in that shy way she has. "I said I'd outlast her, and I did, dammit!"
Her is Shelly Yapp, the soon-to-depart savior or Saddam of the Pike Place Market, depending on your opinion—and everyone at the Market has one. Executive director of the quasi-governmental Pike Place Market Public Development Agency (PDA) the past 10 years, Yapp is adored by progressives who believe she brought Seattle's 92-year-old farmer's market kicking and screaming into the corporate-savvy future.
Over a decade she organized a computer-linked bureaucracy, imposed higher rents to offset historical deficits, demanded that Market businesses operate under stricter financial controls, and employed marketing tactics that acknowledged Pike Place was part of, not unique apart from, the spiffy downtown shopping experience. She saw that the Market's apples were shined as brightly as Nordstrom's new shoes.
To combative traditionalists, however, she might as well have just bagged the charmed institution in "paper or plastic" and renamed it Shelly's Supermarket. Her bullish vision included an upscaled malling of the Market and quadrupled rents aimed at cranky businesses like Patti Summers' Cabaret: long struggling, behind in rent, but persevering thanks to a Market tradition of nurturing smaller, distinct, family operations. Yapp ordered Summers to increase her gross sales from $97,000 a year to an impossible $500,000 or bid good-bye, putting everyone on notice that crude evictions had become Market policy (Summers' grotto eatery eventually won a PDA reprieve).
Yapp's critics saw her as an empire-building politician steeped in the dictums of the city's permanent government—the downtown business mafia. She was, and remained, an outsider. But the Market evolved anyway: once a place of oddballs and tavern critters who held soapbox derbies featuring goggled drivers hunched over the wheel of speeding shopping carts, there is today a snootier Market where the annual street festival has showcased new cars for sale. Developers and attorneys maneuvered in Yapp's shadow (one elderly woman was taken to court by the Market's legal firm for falling behind in her rent by $199.51), and a guns-drawn battle arose after Yapp proposed giving more room to farmers (many of whom buy, not grow, their redundant Market produce) by reducing the table space of crafts vendors.
It wasn't surprising then that cheers overwhelmed tears when Yapp announced she was leaving her $79,000-a-year job to take an $88,000-a-year position as development director of Seattle Center (first chore: bring the Space Needle down to size). Also departing is longtime Market property manager John Turnbull, moving to a private sector job with Lorig Associates.
Yapp detractors could finally say it was all water under the Desimone Bridge. Except last week they learned the head of the Yapp-controlled PDA council is personally going to select the 20-member committee that will then select Yapp's successor. The expected result? Shelly II, The Cloning.
Of course, that's sort of tradition, too. What would the Market gulag be without constant upheaval and attempted palace topplings? Less fun. As even the resilient Patti Summers put it the other night, "They could throw me out at the end of the month—we're having a victory party first!"