Tale Of One Of Seattle's Most Famous Faces Is No Fish Story
Travel & Outdoors: Thursday, December 27, 1990
The most recognized physiognomy in metropolitan Seattle may not belong to Jean Enersen, Mike James, Wayne Cody or Mayor Norm Rice. That honor, if an honor it is, could belong to a tall, angular, gray-haired, slightly bald Seattle native named Sol Amon.
``Who?'' you ask.
The one and only - Sol Amon, a Sephardic Jew of Turkish descent, who is known and recognized all over the world. He has appeared on many local TV shows and some national ones, featuring Charles Kuralt and Willard Scott, the ``Today'' show's bumptious weatherman.
Amon has visited with presidential candidates during their campaigns - Walter Mondale and John Anderson. He has been hailed down while visiting in Paris, recognized on the streets of New York; there probably is no place in the Western world that he could visit without somebody saying, ``Hey, I know you - you're Sol Amon!''
He can count among his buddies Cicely Tyson, the actress; Matt Young, the ball pitcher; Paul Silas, the one-time basketball star; and such assorted sports figures as Tom Chambers, Alex English, Rick Dempsey, and Tom Flores, president of the Seahawks.
The list includes entertainers like the late Danny Kaye and Yul Brynner; Buddy Hackett, Cesar Romero, Keenan Wynn and politicos galore. This adds up to only a fragment of Sol's acquaintances.
Sol Amon's celebrity is easily explained.
In case you haven't tumbled by now, Sol Amon is what travel writers like to call a fishmonger. Ever since 1947, when he graduated from Garfield High School, Sol has been a fixture in the Pike Place Market.
``This is just a guess,'' I told him, ``but you must be easily recognized by at least 50 percent of the people in Seattle.''
``Could be,'' he said. ``I sure know a city full of people.''
Sol, of course, is the owner-manager-chief salesman at Pure Food Fish Market. His piles and piles of fish are right next to the Athenian and through this covered area literally millions of people pass by.
To talk to Sol without interruption, you climb an iron staircase to his office. This is like no office you've ever seen. It is hemmed in by empty packing cartons, dozens of boxes containing smoked salmon; crates, clutter, debris, all very near an ice machine that turns out 7,000 pounds of ice a day.
``Somebody said I started in the Market when I was 3 years old,'' Sol said. ``My father had a fish stall at the south end of the Market then. One day he brought me to work, put an apron on me and sat me down on an empty crate.''
Sol's father, Jack Amon, an immigrant from Turkey, first came to the Market in 1911. He retired in 1959, passed away in 1966, and Sol took over as sole proprietor.
``The Market is important to Seattle, as much as having a library,'' Sol said. ``This city would be nothing without it. Everything around us, the high-rises, the offices, the condos all exist because of the Market.''
Sol added, ``The fish business has changed since I started. Back then there were seven or eight fish places around here. One of our big days was Friday, when the Catholics came in to buy fish.
``In those days, the meat dealers drove Cadillacs,'' Sol said, smiling. ``Then along came Pope Paul VI, who said it was OK for Catholics to eat meat on Friday. That was in 1966. I remember a friend told me, `Sol, that Pope will drive you out of business.'
``Anyway, times have changed. When I started in the fish business, what I'd do in a day I now do in one sale.''
What turned things around, in large part, was what Sol calls ``the health craze.'' On advice of doctors and nutritionists, people began to eat less meat and a lot more fish.
``Now,'' he smiled, ``the doctors are on my side.''
In the beginning, Sol said, all you really needed to know about were five kinds of salmon. But as years passed, not only the volume of fish consumption increased, the spectrum of kinds widened.
``In a way,'' Sol said, ``I'm learning the fish business all over again. Now we've got three kinds of shark, we've got marlin and what we call the `exotics.'
``We've even got opah, what we call `moon fish,' because it's shaped like the moon.
``We get mahi-mahi from Ecuador, groupers from Florida, swordfish, even filet of catfish. Who'd have eaten filet of catfish in the old days? We get all kinds of fish from everywhere. We used to get our shrimp just from Alaska. Now we get it from all over the world, different kinds of shrimp.''
The most expensive form of salmon is, of course, lox, which goes for nearly $20 a pound. A good slab of lox can cost a party-giver well over $100.
The lox comes prepared by Port Chatham, out in Ballard.
``We sell a lot of lox and smoked salmon. We make 300 to 400 shipments of fish a month, all over the world. We just made a shipment to the president of Coca Cola.''
Sol Amon is now 61, with no inclination to retire. ``What would I do?'' he asks rhetorically. ``I love meeting the people down here.''
Pure Food is very much a family operation. Sol's brother, Irving, sells fish. His nephew, Jeff, Irving's son, is right out in front. Sol's sister, Helene Behar, keeps the books.
``One thing I'm proud of,'' Sol said, ``is that I've hired a lot of kids and kept them off the streets. One of them went into the state Department of Fisheries, another one joined the FBI.
``Still another one, Vic Yosha, now owns his own computer company in Denver, a company with 300 employees.''
All the time we talked, Sol was munching a quick sandwich for lunch. When we finished, this tall, angular, very pleasant man made his way down the iron steps and began selling fish again. Just as he has done for 45 years.
Emmett Watson's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the Northwest section of The Times.
Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.