To the annals of great impresarios through history, add Sally Schwartz, the founder and driving force behind and still major-domo of the Randolph Street Market Festival in Chicago’s West Loop. Flo Ziegfeld and Sol Hurok, eat your hearts out!
For the May 28 and 29 opening of the seasonal outdoor market, this time Schwartz did not open the gates via a parade led by her pink golf cart (already done, over), but she did have a brass band welcoming entrants, a resident drag queen who performed on Main Street at 2 p.m., nuns who sold French pastries, and so much more. Oh, and there’s still $14 valet parking—the one bargain remaining in Chicago.
Mike’s Bikes, always a big draw, traditionally holds a prime spot near the entrance. Schwartz and her fiancée proudly ride vintage Schwinns from Mike. This selection included a vintage three-speed Schwinn Breeze for $360.
This year’s opening extravaganza was a Friday evening garden party from 5 to 8 p.m. to introduce “Flashback Friday Nights” for early shopping and more.
Lest anyone think that this is a freak show and wonder what it has to do with antiques and collecting anyway, know this: the Randolph Street Market (RSM) is now in its 13th highly successful year. Twelve thousand visitors paid to enter the 2016 season opening on Saturday and Sunday. Opening weekend is called a festival, and for that Schwartz rolls out added embellishments.
Thirteen years ago, the merchandise mix for RSM was traditional antiques and vintage décor. In 2004 we wrote about antique mirrors and oil on canvas “ancestor” portraits plus silver. Parking was a breeze. Since the Fulton Market area, Chicago’s old wholesale produce and meatpacking district, did not operate on weekends, cars could navigate easily.
The traveling van of North & Hudson (their card reads “mobile boutique”) includes a dressing room at the back.
Today the area has gentrified so highly that recently Robert De Niro and James Packer stood where they plan to open an upscale Nobu hotel/restaurant. Several other boutique hotels are planned, as is a flagship Equinox gym. Google and a restaurant row on Randolph Street are already operating, and Uber plans a footprint in the area. And, if that’s not enough, a giant Shake Shack is to open in 2017, one block from Google! Rents are sky high. McDonald’s has bought Oprah’s Harpo Studios as its new corporate headquarters, and streets are clogged with traffic. Old-time market businesses are moving out, and many loading docks are empty. There is no parking, so many arrive at RSM by taxi.
Fashionistas shop the market for trendy vintage clothing. Here a young mother checks the goods.
On the day we went we saw about 300 sellers with everything from TOS industrial furniture to falafel, antique linens, repurposed furniture or objects, and artisanal chocolates. Many are regulars who have built a loyal following.
The market happens in the paved and wrought-iron fenced compound of almost a city block owned by the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union 130, the group that dyes the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day. The only building on site is the handsome Art Deco Plumbers Hall with all dark woods with a handsome bar and marble stairways.
This is a city market, and what works in the suburbs does not resonate with city dwellers. It is a nuance that Schwartz works artfully.
A former event planner, Schwartz quickly divined the tastes and wants of her core shoppers. Using all the skills she’s acquired and picking up new ones learned at the market, such as arranging for a colorful market trolley that departs round trip every hour from the water tower to transport shoppers, Schwartz has adapted the event to meet consumer wants. It all boils down to bread and circuses.
City buyers do not clamor for George III sideboards with original flyspecks in the patina. Mid-century chairs of reasonable scale and funky objects are another matter.
The excellent condition and complete Heywood-Wakefield buggy, tagged $2200 or best offer, is the “Heywood” model, circa 1890. Seller Robby Davison of 29 Palms: The Collector’s Oasis, Rockford, Illinois, has been with the market since it opened. He told us that the parasol and upholstery are original.
“I want visitors to be visually transported,” Schwartz told us. “When people spend money, they want to have an experience. They don’t want more stuff.”
To that end, RSM goods tend to be visual, whimsical, eye-catching, and sometimes outré. Much is not for purists, but buyers here enjoy shopping as theater, fun, and a day out. They know what they want after they see it. Bottom line, RSM is their funky agora.
Refining the market for local customers includes allowing dogs on leashes, as well as providing a staffed activity center where parents can leave children and know that they are active and involved. They can also treasure hunt using a map of the market. After a successful hunt, kids pick their prize from a treasure chest and get a goody bag to take home. To top it all off, RSM offers free furniture delivery within downtown Chicago.
This early store display rack called a “rounder,” made by Curtis-Leger in Chicago, was tagged $1950 in the booth of FILCA, which specializes in early and interesting industrial furniture. Seller John Wood of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, told us that it has double-wheel casters and an unusual finish.
Gate tickets are $10, and for students with an I.D., $5. Advance tickets are $8, and for students, $3. Group rates are available; children 12 years old and under are free.
The remaining summer markets will be held July 30 and 31, August 27 and 28, and September 24 and 25. Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with early buying from 8 to 10 a.m. Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Jenifer Foxworthy of Flea Market Chic, Culver, Indiana, poses with her painted 1940s-50s chair. The upholstery on the $499 chair is original. The painted wood bathing beauty cutouts all have names and were $65 to $95.
“I want to be really clear,” Schwartz emphasized. “We offer the primary source and best pickings of the entire Midwest.” Through the years, RSM has become known for having good vintage clothing. The lower level of Plumbers Hall is where buyers make a beeline for prime vintage clothing and booths featuring indie designers. Macy’s, it is not.
For more information, see the website (www.randolphstreetmarket.com).
Originally published in the August 2016 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2016 Maine Antique Digest