The Randolph Street Market has become something of an anomaly in the world of stale flea markets with fly-by-nite dealers, located in the middle of nowhere. It is not to say that we all wouldn’t want to spend days driving around to flea markets that require you to take a weekend off just in transportation, but what Sally Schwartz has done in the most urban location possible in downtown Chicago, just steps from the loop, the city’s hottest nightspots and fashion scene, is pretty darn amazing, to say the least.

When Furniture Hot Spots first came out, I was asked to peruse the Market with some reporters who wanted me to comment on the scene. In 100 degree weather I remember not wanting to spend a morning outside in the hot sun. Boy, was I surprised to show up at 9 AM, find a lemonade and ice cream stands just waiting for me. The rest of the morning was so enjoyable, and the Randolph Street Market was packed by 10.

The vibe has caught on in the Midwest, and the last weekend of the spring and summer months has become a treasure people look forward to, because the Market is more of a city party, filled with jazz and other musicians, the best food vendors in the city and the hippest crowd you could hope for at a flea market.

My daughter, Bailey, so much looks forward to buying all the cute vintage costume jewelry, and most of all, the great caramels and other bakery favorites that are freshly made for the show. Food samples abound, and whether you are looking for great art and jewelry for under $25 or high-end vintage clothing and handbags, the Market is a treasure. The best part is when the weather is bad you can go inside the building that is attached to the parking lot where the vendors are.
Phone: (312) 666-1200
Show entrance: 1340 West Washington Blvd., Chicago, IL 60607

Click here to see Sally’s spotlight on Glossed

Click here to see the ABC7 Chicago article and video clip on the Randolph Street Market Festival


I sat down with Sally Schwartz recently to talk about how the Randolph Street Market has taken off in just the past few years, even being featured recently by Nate Berkus in the Wall Street Journal.
Me: Your show moves inside during the winter. What do you offer winter shoppers?
Sally: We host fall and spring vintage clothing, jewelry, accessories and textiles shows and only one general show, which is our holiday market. We are considering some additional options going forward.

Me: You have such a flair for putting these energy-packed, fun shows together. How did you get into this business? Were you in the antiques business?

Sally: I was raised with antiques and always loved kitsch, but I had my own event production company and loved decorating my clients’ parties with authentic vintage pieces. I was among the first party planners who rented props rather than have everything made and then I started investing in these items, getting rid of them at my own garage sales. As I was driving out to the country and hauling the goods back into the city, it hit me that the city really needed its own market. I found that other antique market owners had tried to start a Chicago market, but no one had successfully pulled it off to date. Everyone said it would never work, that dealers were wary of downtown Chicago, customers wouldn’t support it, the union would shut us down, we’d be taxed to death, etc., etc., but somehow, my ignorance and ability to sell the dealers on giving it a try, we broke the spell. It is never easy and we constantly have to reinvent it and offer more than the previous season to stay competitive.

Me: How do you see the show changing in its format, if at all?

Sally: It’s been a struggle to attract the large furniture vendors because it’s difficult to deliver furniture in downtown Chicago for these out-of-towners, and space is much more expensive than the rural areas where they sell. For every furniture dealer who contacts us we get at least 5 jewelry and vintage clothing vendors. For 2011, we are going to dedicate the largest portion of our outdoor lot to strictly furniture and décor, and offer a significantly reduced rate. We will give these dealers more space for less money. We are committed to being the biggest and best source for antique, vintage and repurposed furnishings anywhere in the Midwest.

Me: The crowds are just exploding from month to month, from when the market first started a few years ago. What do you attribute that to?

Sally: First, we have more visibility just in terms of the amount of local and national publicity we’ve garnered…in the last few months the market has been featured in Apartment Therapy, Country Home, and the Wall Street Journal, so the Randolph Street Market is being featured in the same publications as some of the best markets in the country—that doesn’t hurt! Also, the vintage craze is wildly popular with the youth market and Chicago has a huge hip college and young affluent working population.

Me: What’s one thing you want everyone to know about the Randolph Street Market?

Sally: You could come and sit and watch the crowd and be endlessly fascinated, even if you didn’t buy a single thing—some of the best people-watching! People dress to the nines, whether they are carrying Hermès purses and sporting huge diamond rings, or they may be in head-to-toe tattoos with piercings, or just decked out entirely in vintage…all kinds of people gathering in one place to find the best of the best. The people-watching is my absolute favorite part about this market next to the amazing and vast variety of quality merchandise.

Me: How do you use the internet in this day and age of web browsing?

Sally: We are just revamping the website and are blogging, but we’ve found that Facebook is a wonderful way to engage people with contests and photos. We have an email blast we send out and clickable links so we can pre-sell tickets. Believe it or not, there are not many other antique shows or markets that sell tickets online, so our customers benefit because there is a discount for purchasing the ticket online and we benefit because we can track who our customers are and have some tickets sold even if there’s a total rainout.

Me: Have you seen any local celebrities at the Market?

Sally: Sure, all the local media folks come by, as do actors who happen to be in town filming movies or starring in plays. We have had ambassadors, former sports stars and politicians.

Me: What advice can you give to the novice flea market shopper?

Sally: Bring cash because it is easier to bargain when you have cash, always ask, “What’s the best you can do?”, Never, ever denigrate the item you want to buy. The dealer is more likely to give you a better price if you love it and are kind. They may hold onto it no matter what you offer if you make disparaging remarks about the item.

Good tips. I can’t wait to go to the next Market!

Jennifer Litwin