Locals to Know: Joshua Okrent

Today’s local to know is all about building community and spreading neighborly love. Joshua Okrent is the founder of the Punk Rock Flea Market, a 16-year-old nomadic market that hosts vendors from around the region in various Seattle venues, selling everything from maps and bike parts, to painted rocks and stereos, and pretty much everything else in between. They recently hosted a market on Memorial Day weekend in Tacoma, their first time in a new city. Joshua has lived in Seattle for 25 years, so he’s a wealth of knowledge on food recs, has hot takes on Seattle culture and some amazing memories of Seattle past (like the anti-WTO demonstrations of 1999). Take it away Joshua…

Who are you? What do you do?

I’m the founder and producer of the Punk Rock Flea Market (PRFM) Seattle, a 16-year old passion project that we describe as Seattle’s favorite underground shopping experience. It started in 2006 as a fundraising event for the Low Income Housing Institute and since then has gone through all kinds of changes, but we still keep a connection to LIHI and make a donation to them after every event.

In the meantime, our group produces SPASM, a monthly swap meet in the South Park neighborhood on third Saturdays with a similar mix of vendors selling art, crafts, vintage and general weirdness. During the day I’m a fundraiser for Puget Sound nonprofit organizations with a focus on social justice and economic equality.

Wax poetic a moment and tell us: what brings you most alive about this city?

Underneath the new layers of glass and glitz, Seattle still has a huge heart and a scrappy spirit. It’s a city that supports new ideas and new ways of doing things. There’s great art being made here, smart young people who haven’t yet sold their souls to the tech demons, and a belief that we can make a better world. I would say we probably have America’s strongest culture of philanthropy, with people donating their time and corporations doing the right thing by giving back their fair share of wealth to the people and places that make their success possible.

What’s your favorite Seattle memory?

I’ve lived in Seattle for 25 years and have so many great memories! As far as I’m concerned though, the best days in Seattle were during the Anti-WTO demonstrations in 1999. I will never forget the huge outpouring of support for building sustainable economies and supporting human rights. Many thousands of people brought an amazing display of strength and creativity to the streets, showing the entire world that our little city will go to the mat to protect human dignity.

Another fond memory is the outstanding Moore Inside/Out project. Back in 2009 a few dozen artists took over the Moore Theater for one wonderful night, turning that venerable institution into a playground with performances, art installations, video displays, graffiti, and so much art. They subverted everything about the place – you entered through the back alley, and immediately descended into the theater on a 100 ft. long slide. It feels like a dream now, but it’s another thing that should be happening every weekend!

If you could eat only one meal from a local restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?

That’s tough. At the moment, my favorite dish is the Sizzling Catfish and Dill Vermicelli from Wicked Chopstix at 6021 MLK. Fresh flaky fish and lots of crisp veggies. But since I only get one meal, I’ll cheat and choose dim sum across the street at Joy Palace.

Outside of the obvious stop above, share your other top three destinations for where you’d go on your perfect Seattle day.

My wife and I would take our daughters to get fish and chips at Jack’s Fish Spot in Pike Place Market, and then take a ferry ride. I’d buy cheap coffee from the old-school coin-op coffee machine and we would look for orcas off the side of the boat. If I’m feeling ambitious, I might volunteer at the Beacon Food Forest. Later, we would take the kids to a concert at the Vera Project, stop by Ruckus Recreational Cannabis for a little something, and then see a mind-blogging Nigerian or Laotian film at the Northwest Film Forum.

What’s your favorite local social media account to follow and why?

CM Ruiz is a local poster designer who also works for Seattle’s Cultural Space Agency. He’s got intimate knowledge of weird things to see and do in Seattle, and his designs are gorgeous. The Fresh Off the Spaceship podcast series on KEXP traces the development of the very unique and unpredictable hip-hop culture that was born in Seattle, and is a necessary reminder of the richness and incredible creativity of Seattle’s Black community. The South Seattle Emerald has become my go-to website for local news.

How does Seattle help you do what you do/influence your work?

Not every developer is going to open their door to thousands of people at the Punk Rock Flea Market, but there are still enlightened landlords in Seattle who support what we do! Despite our long record of kindness and inclusivity, the name of our group can scare away property owners, but awesome people like the Low Income Housing InstituteRevolve DevelopmentKEXP, the owners of the Unicorn in White Center see the benefits of essentially throwing a party to support small businesses and local bands, and work with us to make it happen.

What’s an unpopular opinion you have about the city?

We should shut down Lake Washington Boulevard to cars FOREVER. That road is clearly meant to be a scenic path for bikes and wheelchairs and ducks out for a walk. The Teslas can take the long way around.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I have been so impressed with the relatively small organizations who are coming together to buy land and develop the facilities they need to keep their communities alive. And equally impressed with institutions like the Cultural Space Agency and City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative that provide real funding to those groups so they can see their visions through to reality. I can’t wait to see more and more of that.

Interested in going to the Punk Rock Flea Market and learning more about their work? Want to connect with Joshua? You can learn more at their website, or follow them on Facebook.  

Know of a person or organization that we ought to feature? Send us an email to [email protected] with the subject line “Evergrey, Locals to Know,” and you could see their name in an upcoming newsletter!