Global Impact

Lillian Sherman: Seattle’s Pike Place Market takes action on homelessness

To sit with her, you would never know that Lillian Sherman and her team support one of Seattle’s most famous attractions – the Pike Place Market. More than 15 million visitors per year eat at its 80 restaurants and take in the produce and creativity of its hundreds of farmers and artisans.

But despite the hustle, bustle, and famous flying fish all around her, the executive director of Pike Place Market Foundation is serenely calm.

If Sherman, a 1991 Seattle Pacific University graduate in sociology, could give you two clues as to why that is, it would be these: One, there is a tight-knit resident low-income community of 500 living within and bordering the Market’s nine acres that is thriving thanks to the Foundation. They have a clinic, a preschool, a food bank, and more. Sherman loves them. Loves their stories of triumph over adversity. Loves helping them stabilize so that they can in turn help one another. And she loves their fierce loyalty to each another and to the Market’s survival.

Second clue, Sherman is having the time of her life. She gets to advocate for the residents, plan events to support them and the Market, and talk about both with joy and conviction.

She reels off Market statistics. “There are 240 stores with doors, 100 farmers, 250 artists, every one of them a sole proprietor. According to the rules, Starbucks, which started here under one owner, couldn’t come in now as the huge corporate entity it has become. This place is super authentic with stores you won’t see anywhere else.”

Lillian Sherman poses with the Pike Place pig

And that, she says with feeling, is because the community, through the Friends of the Market, saved Pike Place Market from the wrecking ball. At a time when aging farmers markets across the country are being torn down, Seattle’s Market, founded in 1907, is going strong. Sherman led the group that raised $9 million to complete the recent MarketFront expansion that included new retail space and 40 new units of low-income senior housing.

For Sherman, her concern for those on the social margins accelerated at Seattle Pacific. As a student she invested time volunteering at a juvenile detention center. She faced the challenge of living on the streets for a week and faced homelessness close- up through Urban Plunge. She interned with the Seattle Police Department to assist victims and understand their point of view.

It was, she says, quite real and “super eye-opening.”

After graduation, Sherman took a temporary job helping plan events at a downtown department store. She asked herself how could she best do good in the world, which led her to the inevitable follow-up question, “Why sell more lipstick?”

In 1999, she became development and marketing director for FareStart, a non-profit designed to teach the culinary arts to people struggling to rise above poverty and homelessness. In 2006, she became vice president of development and communications at Wellspring Family Services, where she helped individuals and families overcome crisis and trauma.

With the Market since 2012, Sherman is also active in the Seattle Rotary and co-chair of the National Philanthropy Day Awards Committee. In November, she was chosen one of 14 to be honored as Women of Influence by the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Protecting and preserving Pike Place Market is not a hard sell, says Sherman, because it is such a joyous place. “It’s about telling a great story. The Market community engages in some deep storytelling. For them, it’s organic.”

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