Sophia Lapat 0000-00-00 00:00:00
By 9:45 a.m., thousands of ravenous fashionistas and collectors line the sidewalk waiting fervently for the gates to open promptly at 10 a.m. The crowd is a mix of curious newcomers, local hipsters, seasoned collectors, international jetsetters and a slew of media personalities buzzing with the same intoxicating energy as the Academy Awards’ red carpet. This isn’t the entrance to New York Fashion Week or Art Basel; this is Chicago’s Randolph Street Market, and by all accounts just as anticipated month after month. Founded in 2003 by celebrated vintage pioneer and party planner Sally Schwartz, the Randolph Street Market is a European-style indoor-outdoor antiques market featuring 250 select purveyors of high-quality, rare treasures from around the world. Located in downtown Chicago at the historic Plumber’s Union Hall, just steps from some of the finest restaurants in the city, the market is the only one of its kind in the country, offering premium space for dealers and shoppers in an expansive urban setting. “As an avid collector and event planner, I often traveled miles outside of Chicago to shop for authentic period props for parties I was decorating,” Schwartz says. “It didn’t make sense that there wasn’t a big antique market in the third largest city in the country. The Randolph Street Market put Chicago and the Midwest on the map for well-curated antiques and vintage offerings.” Since its debut almost nine years ago, the market has attracted thousands of loyal followers from Beijing to New York City, all on the quest to uncover valuable treasures. You won’t be surprised to find some of the biggest names in interior design and fashion scavenging through bins of antique cabinetry hardware, strings of precious pearls and gold chains, rows of mint-condition ostrich handbags, and racks of mink stoles and Hermes scarves from the ’70s. The market draws collectors, art buyers and stylists from around the world, including representatives for Ralph Lauren, Madonna, Nicole Kidman and Nate Berkus, who rarely miss a show. When asked about her most cherished market find, Schwartz reveals, “It was an incredible painting for $75 that was appraised for $10,000. It’s by a well-known modernist painter named Kratochvil and is displayed prominently in my home.” A true feast for the eyes, ears and taste buds, the Randolph Street Market highlights a different theme each month. The season opener, May 26 - 27, is one of Chicago’s biggest social events of the year. “Our May opener centers around a garden party theme, where everyone comes out of winter hibernation for great people watching, one-of-a-kind shopping, live music and delicious food,” Schwartz says. Envision bombshells in vintage bathing suits, hula hoop girls modeling the latest fashions, chic outdoor vignettes and landscaping designed by the market’s style guru, Ramsey Jay Prince, plus a sizzling barbeque fete from Chicago’s best chefs. “The dealers go wild playing up the theme with fresh flowers and unique items for throwing garden parties—backyard barbecues, games of croquet, lemonade sets, wicker bars, picnic baskets and beautiful vintage fashions to wear to the party,” she says. The Great Exploration As soon as the market gates open, more than 15,000 attendees disperse to scour hundreds of stalls and thousands of rarities at this indoor and outdoor shopping mecca. But even the most seasoned market shopper needs a treasure map and two full days of exploration. The outdoor parking lot showcases a sea of home furnishings and décor items that run the gamut from the rarest, mid-century Eames Danish coffee table to a highly-coveted, collectorworthy, tangerine Schwinn bicycle. Smaller booths scattered throughout showcase everything imaginable in antiques, magnificent period gems by such visionaries as Van Cleef & Arpels, men’s cufflinks and fashions, vinyl and global goods. A center stage area plays a rotating mix of live country, jazz, 1970s disco or steam punk. Head inside and see the historic, 1920s Beaux-Arts, terrazzo-floored building with shopping on three levels. The grand dame of vintage fashion and jewelry is located in the ballroom, aptly named “Pickers Palace,” where according to Schwartz, “you can scope out the best finds.” Haggling is encouraged and part of the fun. Finish the day with a mimosa or frozen banana from the outdoor food court, which features a variety of gourmet treats including pizzas, cocktails, candied nuts, empanadas and much more from local food artisans. The Randolph Street Market also features on-site ATMs, free furniture delivery in Chicago, valet parking, a dog-friendly atmosphere and a free trolley from Water Tower Place, located in the heart of downtown Chicago for easy access. Quality Finds The market is as much about the dealers, as it is about its offerings. What sets the Randolph Street Market apart from other antique fairs and flea markets around the world is its quality and size. At 350,000 square feet, the market features a wide range of dealers each with unique story to tell. Jane Chang, founder of Lulu of Chicago, has exhibited at the market for the past six years and specializes in vintage clothing, purses, jewelry, watches, sunglasses and antique cameras. “Compared to other markets, RSM works very hard to ensure the quality of the vendors,” Chang says. “At some of the other markets you would encounter a lot of new or reproduced merchandise. The vendors [here] have high quality, original vintage and designer fashion. This is also part of the reason why they have great customers.” Don Colclough and Lisa Polito, owners of Chicago-based Mr. Modern, haven’t missed a market yet. Selling mostly post-war modern with an emphasis on mid-century furnishings, Mr. Modern is quite versed in the entire 20th century as well. “What we enjoy the most about the event is the wonderful variety that Sally brings to the marketplace and the fact that she draws a customer base that is much younger than most shows,” Colclough explains. Dealer Katrina Bray of Royal Oaks, Mich., adds: “There’s even art, antiques, clothing, industrial decor, music, food and entertainment for the kids. It’s an outing for everyone. The industry has changed and Sally has her finger on its pulse.” National TV programs like “Picker Sisters,” “American Pickers” and “Auction Hunters” have brought a greater interest and attention to the art of antiquing and collecting. A Limoges porcelain punch bowl owned by your great grandmother that was once cast off as junk is now a prized possession. Similarly, many accredit Schwartz and the Randolph Street Market with the revival of vintage. According to Schwartz, “Some people have an aversion to buying things used, thinking they are dusty, old and dirty. Our market brings the level of used and thrift up to a whole new level of merchandising. In 10 years, I see the Randolph Street Market as the must-attend event in the U.S., with tons of international visitors and vendors. We plan to go global!” Future market dates: June 23 - 24, July 28 - 29, Aug. 25 - 26 and Sept. 29 - 30. For more information, visit randolphstreetmarket.com. Shop Like a pro Founder Sally Schwartz offers insider tips for shopping the Randolph Street Market: 1. Come early before everything is already picked over. The early bird definitely catches the worm. 2. Always ask “What’s your best price?” Dealers are usually open to negotiating, and it’s part of the fun. 3. Check the lining of the clothing you’re buying. Examine the cuffs and buttons for wear and tear. 4. Inspect items closely. Hold porcelain and glass up to the light for any fractures and cracks. 5. When buying art, look for a signature from the artist on the front and turn the piece over to the back if you can. New matting indicates someone with knowledge has re-framed and invested in the piece already. 6. Buy the bones on furniture. Good bones can always be reupholstered with your favorite fabric, and minor scratches can be repaired. 7. Vintage hardware is a great way to up-cycle. By changing out hardware, you can create a whole new look of tired furniture. 8. Always buy the set; don’t split pairs of lamps or chairs, as they are always more valuable together than on their own. 9. Vintage jewelry and watches are hot sellers at the market. When buying jewelry, look closely to see if the stones are missing and if all the stones match. Check each piece for the “sterling” stamp or “925” mark, which indicates silver content. Keep in mind, fixing a vintage watch so that it runs could cost upwards of $300, so make sure you’re up for the investment. 10. Most importantly, never ever disparage the object of your affection. If you love it, you’re more likely to get a better deal than if you walk away from it. Market treasures The Randolph Street Market is an excellent place to find hidden gems. Here are just a few of the treasures shoppers have purchased at the market: 1. A set of five old, English sterling serving spoons sold for $50 at the market were actually worth $1,000. 2. A pair of deco lamps was $100 at the market and sold in an antiques shop for $6,000. 3. Randolph Street Market founder Sally Schwartz purchased a painting for $75, had it cleaned and appraised by a professional—it was worth $10,000 and done by a famous 1940s modernist painter named Kratochvil. 4. Many prominent artists attended Chicago’s School of the Art Institute, and visitors to the Randolph Street Market have stumbled upon sketches and student studies by such greats as Thomas Hart Benton, Claes Oldenburg, Richard Hunt, Jeff Koons, Jim Nutt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Orson Welles, Halston and many others.
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