BETTY HALFON

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BETTY HALFON ON:

Her Seattle Pedigree

I grew up in Seward Park, not far from Rainier Avenue--a very middle-class Seward Park neighborhood. Both of my parents were born in Seattle--son and daughter of immigrants. My dad was a transit inspector, but he did other things as well. When he was a kid he sold newspapers to the sailors on the waterfront. And I know he worked selling vegetables here at the Market.

Early Market days

My dad used to work down on First and Yesler. They used to have bus huts for transit inspectors because the trolley lines would fall down all the time. So my dad would work down there and when I was about ten, there was a little coffee booth called Betty's--no relation to me-- and my mom and I, we'd find him there. Then my mom and I, we'd go to the Market and shop for groceries and after work, my dad would pick up cold cuts at the Market and we'd have a wonderful dinner.

I hung out at the Market all the time. I was in junior high school when I started taking the bus downtown and I always wanted to go the Market. It's funny because my friends wanted to go to The Bon Marché basement. And I'd say, "Come on, you guys. Let's go to the Market." And they'd go, "Oh, God, the Queen of the Market's talking all over again." And I'd say, "You never know what you're going to find down there." And now when I talk to them I say [laughing], "Yes, I am the Queen of the Market."

The true meaning of the Market

This is gonna sound so hokey but the Market is about the Great American Way. It's about the immigrants that came over here and made a name for themselves. And my grandparents, who sold pots and pans door to door and often times were turned down because they didn't speak English. This is about the Jewish guy that came over here who couldn't speak any English at all, but found people who spoke Hebrew here at the Market. And he thought, "We're in the right place." It's the Japanese immigrant that worked here. That's what it is. It's, 'I can do it my way.' It's what America really is about. Not all that other stuff we got going on right now.

I look at what happens everywhere else. We dehumanize people. The Market is about people--people to people--and I think that matters. Even if I didn't have a store here, I'd still want to be here.

I don't have children, but for my great-nieces and nephews, I want them to know that Auntie Betty one time had a store here. They need to see and understand why the Market is so special and important. I feel very protective toward the Market. It's strong, but yet it's fragile.

What makes the Market special

I think it's the energy. It's like when I go to New York. New York is a big, huge, crazy place, but I like the rhythm and energy. That's what gets me going. I know lots of people who travel a lot, and they want to see the sights. But I want to see the city. I want to know the energy of the people. Here, each day is a different day. It's an adventure. That's what I always like about it. And it's probably the closest I could have gotten to hippie stuff. It's a slice of Americana.

Even now, when some little kid goes missing that is a worker's child here, everybody knows that child, and everybody's on the lookout for that child. We are better than the police department half the time in finding lost children.

Grassroots-Why It Matters

If somebody doesn't watch government, they're going to go berserk-o on you. It's the same thing with our PDA--not that I say they want to go berserk-o, but they need somebody to be accountable to. We all do. I look at my city and think to myself what has happened? The city is slowly eroding and we are overdoing it . And in terms of the Pike Place Market, that's where the Constituency comes in. To make sure we don't overdo it in the Market. That is part of what the Constituency's job is.

The Politics of Marketing

One of the things [Executive Director] Mary Bacarella mentioned in her interview [see the May 2108 Constituency interview] is that we need people outside of the Market arena to come into the Market to recognize that we need volunteers--ambassadors. So I would like the Market to put out a plea to people to say, "This is your Market. Come on back. We want you here. We need you here. Volunteer for this or that and become an ambassador for the Market. We're just asking for a couple hours of time once a month."

The PDA, through the Market Charter, is charged to help our marginal businesses. We are planning to do that with marketing workshops. One of the things the Merchants' Association did was resolve issues between the PDA and the merchant. Also if a merchant wasn't doing well, the PDA would contact the Merchants' Association and say "this store needs some help." Everyone would meet and find a way to help that merchant. I believe that's going to start happening once again--for the merchants, for the daystallers, for the farmers, and for everybody. I guess what I'm saying is there's going to be more help for our businesses.

More Thoughts on Marketing

We're not talking to the people we need to be talking to, and we need to figure out how to do it. We can reach the outlying areas after we figure out why the people who live here aren't shopping here. What aren't we doing? I'm so excited to have Mary here. She sees a problem, then she analyzes the whole damn thing and then we get to a solution. At least that's what I've talked to her about. So I think it's a very exciting time to be on the [PDA Council's] Market Programs Committee, figuring out what is working? What is not working? What do we need to do? How do we plug the holes? And once we plug the holes, how do we make the performance better?

Starting Sweetie's Candy

I used to work for Halfon Candy Company doing the books. About twenty years ago I opened Sweeties Candy. My dad had no idea I opened a store down here. I didn't tell him because I wanted to surprise him. So one day I said, "Hey, dad, how long has it been since you've been to the Market? Maybe it's time to go down and go out to lunch." So we drove down and had lunch, and then we walked by my store. And he looked at me and goes, "I wonder if we have this account?" I wasn't working for him at the time and I said, "No, you don't have this account." He goes, "How do you know that? You don't work with us anymore." And I said, "Because this is my store." His mouth hung open and he said, "You're kidding!" I said, "No." I was so excited because he was proud of me. That was one of my most proud moments. There wasn't much I could do to impress my father, but this did it.

Sweetie's ....Magnets????

When I came to the Market, my intent was never to sell candy. My intent was to sell refrigerator magnets. So when John Turnbull looked at my application, he said, "We can't put any more trinkets in here, but we don't have a good bulk candy store. With your candy experience, what do you think of that idea?" And I said, "That's a no-brainer for me. I was born into this business. I know what it's all about."

BETTY HALFON - THE QUICK Q AND A:

Dogs

I used to be scared to death of dogs when I was a kid. I was in kindergarten or first grade and walking home from school and there'd be a dog across the street and I'd start to scream and cry because I was afraid of dogs. I would avoid dogs at all costs until the principal of the school called my mother up and said, "Mrs. Halfon, if you don't get that young lady a dog she will be scared of dogs the rest of her life." So my mom got me a Manchester Chihuahua and we named her Tiny-Tina-Cleo-Chiquita-Fang-Halfon.

If I could, I would have 200 dogs someplace in Costa Rica where they could run free and I could feed them and they could play. I don't even like to go on a trip because I don't want to leave my dog. When I'm gone for a period of time I call home and talk to my dog.

The family dog names-first to present day

Tiny-Tina-Cleo-Chiquita-Fang-Halfon, Mister Smith, Tiger, Rocky, Schroeder and my current dog, Jelly Bean.

The Halfon Family candy pedigree

My dad started the Halfon Candy Company. It has always been a wholesale candy business. I don't even know how to answer when it began. First it was my dad's hobby. He would always look at the candy section in stores--the displays and how the candy was packaged. From there, he started meeting brokers and buying candy. That led him to selling it to others out of our house. Sometime down the road he bought a warehouse and started supplying other businesses. And that got bigger and bigger so he retired from the transit company and became a full-time wholesale candy distributor.

What happens with a dad in the candy business...

Yeah, for a long time I was the neighborhood kids' best friend. It's not like everyone in the world would constantly knock on my door, but neighborhood kids would play in my yard all the time, and we'd come inside and get a snack of candy--and my mom would try to push apples at us!

At Halloween we always had the good stuff, whatever that happened to be.

A more serious side of candy

My mom and dad would go to candy conventions in Chicago. And I knew they'd bring candy home. My mom would hide it from us kids and thought we could never find it but we always did. They didn't want us to be heavy. My mom had a foresight about that. Our neighbor had been through World War II. She was Jewish and she hid from the Nazis in the mountains of Austria. My mom grew up in that time and she was worried that at some point they'd come after us again. So she wanted us to be slender enough that we could take care of ourselves if we had to hide.

Dream career

I would have loved to be a singer or a dancer. I loved singing the music of Barbara Streisand--undoubtedly Barbara Streisand! I was in three choirs in Franklin High School. Honors choir, Bel Canto and the Madrigals. The Madrigals were the performing group that got to go to all the banquets and do smaller venues because there were only twelve of us. We sang very old songs. I can't remember what they were, but themes like 'O My Bonnie Somewhere out on a Lake' comes to mind.

How to spend that Constituency dollar at age 10

One of two ways. It either would have been make up--drugstore eye makeup. Always eye makeup. At that point it might have been purple. Or, I would have bought a purse.

The candy store version of spending that dollar

A Hershey Bar, a Hollywood Bar--which is like a Snickers Bar, Whoppers Malted Milk Balls. There was a place down the street from me called Blondies, and Blondies sold maple bars. They also had those wax lips. I had to have those. And I would have bought a 78 rpm record.

Removing the "little hat"

My Birthday is November 7th. The cut-off date to get into school was November 1st. My mother had just had a baby and she wanted me in school, so she knocked the "little hat" off the top of the "7" on my birth certificate and changed it to a "1." I was four years old when I went into school, and until age fourteen I thought my birthday was the day after Halloween.

Besides the obvious, why the name Sweetie's?

My friend Jan's husband used to say to his wife all the time, "Okay, Sweetie. Whatever you want, Sweetie. Okay, Sweetie." And my ex and I joked about it. The guy she was married to at the time was a person who became quite internationally famous playing the soprano saxophone. So it's what he said--and that's how Sweetie's became Sweetie's.

Favorite place in Washington State outside of the Market

My back yard. It's quiet back there and I can hear myself think. Haley Land

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