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Originally published July 13, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified July 14, 2010 at 7:58 AM

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Pike Place Market's rummage hall to relocate, to dismay of some vendors

Phase II of a $69 million renovation is under way at Seattle's Pike Place Market, and among the 30 merchant areas being displaced to make way for seismic and other upgrades are the Market's little-known but treasured rummage halls. But some fear relocation could be the end for the rummage area, with few sellers committing to continue on after the summer.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Mark Brady has whatever you're looking for — CD players, salt and pepper shakers, baby shoes and shot glasses. Among the items on his sale tables are scuba fins and poker chips, earrings and tobacco pipes, a 1987 Elvis calendar, a Bible that looks to weigh 30 pounds.

One of dozens of vendors who frequent the steady but little-known rummage halls of Seattle's Pike Place Market, he's got everything — except any certainty about the future of the rummage halls themselves.

Phase II of a planned $69 million renovation is under way at the Market, and it's expected to be the most disruptive, with 35 merchant areas being shuffled to make way for major seismic upgrades and other structural improvements.

"Think of a big chessboard where people have to be moved around," said James Haydu, spokesman for the Market's Public Development Association.

The rummage area, nestled in the so-called "Sanitary Market," is among those being relocated, and some fear the move — which officials say could be for up to a year — could spell the end for a historic Market feature that caters to low- and moderate-income locals.

So far, few sellers — who usually sign up months in advance — have committed to continue on beyond August, displeased with their new site: The Market Heritage Center on low-lying Western Avenue.

"I'd say 90 percent of us won't," Brady said.

The Market museum location is on an unpopular stretch at the base of the Market that Brady and others, like antiques dealer Bob Leeds, say is too remote to deter thievery or to be viable for their customers.

"They say security will be just a phone call away, but that's a lot different than having them stand in your booth every 10 minutes," Leeds said.

More than that, rummage sellers fear falling out of the Market's thriving community. Their patrons are mostly other Market workers, they say, more so than tourists. "We're next to the restrooms and cold-storage areas, so they can swing by and see us while they're on their break or going to get a load of produce without it being an effort," Leeds said.

Moving off the main line, they say, will disrupt a symbiotic relationship in which merchants and their staff patronize rummage sellers and vice versa.

"They're not going to accidentally run over to Western Avenue on their way to the restroom,"said 20-year vendor Virginia Dundas. "There's no reason to go there unless they're coming to see us."

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The rummage hall also serves nearby neighborhood regulars who rely on secondhand sellers for cheap household items such as clothing or dishes. "There are literally people you just write your calendar out for," Dundas said.

Hidden gem

In many ways, the rummage halls are a hidden Market gem, notched between a Mexican folk-art gallery and kitchen store behind the Made in Washington retail outlet.

Paul Dunn, a Pike Place Market News columnist and onetime head of the Market's merchants group, said the halls date to the early 1970s when the Market included at least a half-dozen secondhand stores and thrift shops.

Dozens of vendors — swap-meet regulars, antique-shop dealers, estate-sales specialists and more — compete quarterly via lottery for space in the two 20-by-30-foot rummage halls. They're set up by 8:30 a.m., packed up and out by six. The rent is $85 a day.

Sellers like Frank Olivo hope for the best. He's been building up his e-mail list for three months, hoping customers will follow him wherever he ends up.

Leeds, too, said he'll give the new space a try. "I'm more than flexible, if they give me something to flex with," he said.

But to consign the rummage hall to such a remote site permanently, he said, would be wrong. "It will just die a slow death," he said.

He said he sympathizes with Market managers, but said it's hard to see seemingly potential options dismissed in favor of less favorable ones.

"What we see as empty space may not be," he said. "But no one's ever said to us, 'When this is all done, we'll bring you back up here... .' It's either/or. And you know how people are. You tell me either/or and it will probably be or."

Haydu said the Market is committed to keeping the rummage tradition intact. "We have no intention of getting rid of it," he said.

Dunn, via e-mail, said the hardship will be worth it in the end.

"When all is finished the grumbling will subside in better-lit, air-conditioned, safe business spaces," he said. "The Market will be ready for the next 100 years."

Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or mramirez@seattletimes.com

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