The many lures of Pure Food Fish Market begin with the baiting beats of Harry Calvo. You know Harry. He’s that guy with the Ringo Starr mustache who has worked as a fishmonger there since 1970.
After Harry draws you into the narrow Pike Place Market stall, whole king salmon, reclining on ice, greet you with blank stares. Snow-white slabs of fresh halibut fillets and sweet scents of smoked salmon tempt you farther inside, pulling you toward a metal staircase smeared with the wet tracks of rubber boots. You’re hooked.
At the top of the stairs, an elderly man leans forward on a high-back leather office chair, thumbing through papers on his desk. He is talking on the phone to one of his distributors, reciting numbers and letters in a shorthand code for describing the stock he needs.
“Oh, and buy kings, too,” he says before hanging up.
The man is Solomon “Solly” Amon, progeny of Jack Amon, one of the original Sephardic merchants at Pike Place Market. Solly recalls a faint memory at age 3 when his father dressed him in a little apron and placed him on top of an orange cart in front of his fish market to attract sales.
Right after his bar mitzvah, Solly went to work at Pike Place Fish Market, which his father operated with a Greek business partner. Located where Pike Street dead-ends, the shop has long since changed hands and is now famous for tossing fish.
Back in the day, that part of the market had no roof. Sick of braving the elements, Jack took his son and together they opened Pure Food Fish as a competitor. Solly, now 86, remains the proprietor today. He avoided any impulse to sell or expand, preferring to stay a big fish in a small pond. The business has grown over the years, but almost all of it is attributable to online sales.
“When you expand, your efficiency goes down,” Solly explains. “This always has been a store of love. This is not work.”
Running a business at Pike Place Market, where looky-loo tourists mix with locals looking to buy, often requires a great deal of patience — or, as Sephardic Jews say in Ladino, paciencia. As an old Ladino proverb, or refrane, goes, “Paciencia es ‘paz y sencia.’” “Patience is peace and wisdom.” Solly possesses both.
Solly still shows up every weekday, except for the occasional one he takes off to catch an afternoon Mariners game. He has put his 25-year-old granddaughter, Carlee Kulman, in charge of store operations. Like his father before him, Solly teaches her the nuances of managing supply to meet demand. Inventory is an everyday ordeal involving hour-by-hour monitoring of weather. Gale-force winds on the Copper River, for instance, affect the daily catch and compel the buying of salmon from other sources.
“I’m searching for fish all the time to keep my customers happy,” Solly says.
From his perch upstairs, a small sliding window offers Solly a wide vista of the entire shop. Though he retired from the floor at 80, his view from the window is not at all bad. From it, he can see all that he has made. And it is very good.