If you’re a Chicagoan who likes to shop than no doubt you’ve heard of the Randolph Street Market. Created in 2004 by former party planner Sally Schwartz, the event has even attracted the likes of Oprah darling Nate Berkus. Our Town spoke with Schwartz about the Market’s inception, current incarnation, and because we here at Our Town are fashion impaired, snagged some style tips as well.
Our Town When you started what was originally known as Chicago Antique Market, did you have any inkling of what it would become?
Sally Schwartz I knew it was a big idea but I didn't actually think I'd still be doing it eight years later, thought I would be on my yacht having cornered the market in some rare item I'd stumbled across. Honestly, it's so much fun I can't imagine doing anything else and feel very blessed that it's been so well received.
OT Randolph Street Market has been described as an urban street party rather than a traditional flea market. What goes into cultivating that atmosphere?
SS I always wanted this event to feel safe and be a safe place to transact business so the vendors are hand picked and screened. Because it's a two-day show, everyone gets to relax and have fun. Throw in the alcohol and people are loose and enjoying life. It's our cool vendors, many of whom camp out onsite, that make the event such a joy for the customers. We also have lots of big cops, Chicago's finest, as bouncers making sure everyone behaves. Chicago is such a unique place, even in the world of big cities, and the Randolph Street Market reflects it, a little wacky, a lot of quality.
OT Haggling at RSM, distasteful or necessary?
SS Haggling is just part of the game and the fun! Though many of our vendors report that they love our market so much because lots of the customers never beat them down in price at all. They think our Chicago customers are so fun and polite and appreciative. And apparently, that's unusual in the world of flea marketing!
OT What was it like to receive a mention from Oprah darling Nate Berkus?
SS I was totally thrilled the first time I saw Nate wandering about. I knew he would shout it from the rooftops. It's incredibly validating to have people with the means to travel anywhere and buy anything tell you how much they love what they see and buy at the Randolph Street Market.
OT This weekend you’re hosting pool parties and a photography competition.
SS The pool party is part of the high jinx, we fill kiddie pools and put lawn chairs around them and VOILA! Pool party! It keeps everyone cool in spirit and gives the pups a place to drink and romp. The first annual Vintage Vernacular & Street Style photo contest is another way for us to get our audience participating and using the market as a backdrop. There are so many fabulous photo ops and we just can't capture them all so we invite our attendees to try their hands at creating permanent memories.
OT Tell me about your “vice” collection.
SS People used to treat vices like smoking and drinking with such grace and humor. There are fabulous remnants of that era, when it was not only acceptable to smoke cigarettes everywhere, it was downright glamorous. I have large, ornate and novelty cigarette lighters like telephones, elephants, pianos. I even have cigarette lighters with matching lipstick holders because smoking was part of being beautiful. Weird, huh? And then I also have hundreds of cool plastic and glass swizzle sticks because a cocktail wasn't a cocktail without one of these sticking out. These items are more for my amusement than for their value but that's also part of having a collection, it becomes worth more and more as you build.
OT What’s your most exciting vintage find?
SS My favorites change but I am in awe of a Norma Kamali long coat covered with large pearlescent sequins. Also, I have a blue satin vest adorned with the metal tabs from old beer cans, and the word "Hal" embroidered on the back in script lettering.
OT Give me a ‘how to wear vintage without looking like my grandmother’ tutorial.
SS Take any vintage piece and rough it up. Wear a leather skirt with an old tuxedo jacket, or display old hankies in the pockets of your skinny jeans. Mix tweeds with stripes, brocades with jeans--make it your own look.
OT What key vintage pieces do you recommend women or men own?
SS Handbags for women are super chic, timeless and collectible; and silk scarves, like Hermes and Ferragamo. For men, cuff links and neckties, plus great Ray Bans.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Counter Point Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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