Treasures from decades past

By HermineBloom

A long line snaked around the historic Dank Haus German Cultural Center, 4740 N. Western Ave., on Feb. 27 in great anticipation of the first market in Chicago dedicated to selling everything from a mid-century mahogany chest to an ’80s neon frock.

However, those who waited in line for what’s referred to as a “pop-up modern flea market” only waited about 20 minutes before arriving at the fifth floor ballroom, which was overflowing with 3,000 trendy-looking folks shelling out cash for retro trinkets and treasures throughout the day.

Co-founder of the inaugural Vintage Bazaar, Katherine Raz, remembers when her father, who was an antique dealer, used to bring her to thrift stores as a kid. Raz describes her love of everything vintage as “only natural,” which led her to create a blog and Etsy store—an online market and community for buyers and sellers of handmade goods—named BackGarage and subsequently led her to develop this vintage market.

“I think handmade markets are awesome but at the same time, from a shopping perspective, if you’re a vintage vendor, you’re always finding new stuff in your particular style,” Raz said. “You always have something new and interesting in your shop. We kind of wanted to create this event that’s like Renegade [Handmade Market] in that you can go and get something for five bucks, but it’s a new store every time just like they tell you when you go thrift shopping—‘Come back tomorrow, it’ll be a whole new store!’”

Raz’s business partner, Libby Alexander, works part time for the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce and full time as the manager of Agent Gallery Chicago in Wicker Park, an architectural salvage store. Alexander also decorates her apartment with fiberglass mannequin legs, Persian rugs and taxidermy as a hobby.

The latter, however, has landed Alexander’s apartment on prominent design blogs in Chicago, which is how the two ladies initially met.

After Raz’s photographer took pictures of Alexander’s home for a feature to appear on her blog, the two of them sat down for cocktails on Alexander’s porch to discuss starting a business.

“I told her I don’t ever feel like I can go to an antique fair with $20 and get a piece I really like,” Raz said. “I told her I’ve been thinking about doing that and she was like, ‘That’s a really good idea!’ You know how somebody validates what you’ve been thinking all along? It kind of just spiraled into something real.”

Not unlike Raz’s family history, Alexander’s grandmother was a “big garage sale gal too,” Alexander said.

“We didn’t have a lot of money so we were thrifty, but we still wanted to have things that were stylish,” she said.

In an effort to bring the online Etsy community to a place where buyers can actually physically touch the items and provide them with affordable vintage goodies from different Midwestern vendors with different styles all in one place, Raz and Alexander created The Vintage Bazaar by contacting people they knew in the community and utilizing social media outlets.

Simple word-of-mouth helped spark interest in the event, which is why the number of vendors who were interested—almost 60 by Alexander’s estimate—was somewhat remarkable.

The Vintage Bazaar hosted 38 vintage vendors, two food vendors and was sponsored by Yelp Chicago, Mistubishi/What Are You Into and CHIRP radio.

One such women’s clothing vendor by the name of Greatest Generation Vintage described her experience at The Vintage Bazaar as “chaotic in the most wonderful way possible” due to the unbelievable turnout.

“It was crowded from the moment it opened until the moment it closed,” said Nicole Hughes of Greatest Generation Vintage. “It just goes to show the need for this kind of event, or at least something to do on a gloomy February afternoon.

Hughes, who learned about The Vintage Bazaar by picking up a flyer in Wicker Park, elaborated on the need for this type of affordable market in Chicago.

“Not everyone in the city has access to a car for Kane County or Sandwich, the deep pockets for Randolph Street or the antique malls, or the patience for thrift stores or Craigslist,” Hughes said. “This show was the blending of the best of all worlds.”

Lara Jo Hightower at vintage houseware online shop Pretty Quirky said, “if it’s cool, old and pretty” she loves it, and wrote a few guest posts for Raz’s BackGarage blog, which is how she found out about the market.

After selling approximately 90 percent of her merchandise, Hightower said she will, without a doubt, participate in the next Vintage Bazaar, which she said was executed flawlessly by Alexander and Raz.

“Load-in and load-out were organized to a tee, and every question we had during the 48 hours of the event was answered promptly and efficiently,” Hightower said.

According to Raz, the next Vintage Bazaar will be hosted at a different location with some different vendors sprinkled in to avoid what she calls the Renegade Handmade Market monotony, consisting of the same vendors selling the same bottle cap magnets and bound books they do every year.

Instead, the collaborative spirit of The Vintage Bazaar is full of fresh and creative business models.

“One of our vendors, the Sometimes Store, sells vintage clothing in her apartment and it’s really a growing trend,” Alexander said. “It’s a response probably to the economy and just thinking creatively. ‘Oh, I got laid off from my job and what am I going to do now?’ I’m just going to go for my passion and there’s nothing to lose really.”

For more information about the upcoming markets, visit