Shop Talk with Ladies of The Vintage Bazaar


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Katherine and Libby are a force to be reckoned with. Photo: Meena Singh

Katherine and Libby are a force to be reckoned with. Photo: Meena Singh

Be prepared for a flurry of activity when you enter The Vintage Bazaar. One of the major players in Chicago’s vintage scene is now a monthly market. We chatted up Katherine Raz and Libby Alexander, the super team behind TVB about their own tried-and-true flea market tricks and gossip on celebrity sightings. As proprietors of TVB, they have an eye for design (if you don’t believe us, check out the goods available!) and a knack for bringing the best of the best together under one roof.

Hi Katherine and Libby! When did you start The Vintage Bazaar?

Katherine: We started working on the first market in June of 2009 and did our first show at the DANK Haus in February of 2010.

The Vintage Bazaar has really come so far. How far back do you two go as friends?

Katherine: We aren’t friends, really. Ha! No — in all seriousness, we didn’t know each other before Libby emailed me to do a profile on her apartment when I used to write a blog at I came to her place to do a home tour and ended up having all this crazy stuff in common. I had the idea to create a fun vintage market and Libby had a background in writing business plans and working for the Chamber of Commerce and I was like, “Uh, do you want to do this?” The chain of emails started later that day and hasn’t ended since.

Libby: Yup. We were perfect strangers when we started this business! Even though she says we’re not friends, I know we’re BFF. I couldn’t imagine running TVB with anyone else.

The crowds build at Congress Theater for a summer 2010 event. Photo by Steve Pate.

The crowds build at Congress Theater for a summer 2010 event. Photo: Steve Pate.

What a great meeting of the minds. Tell us, what’s the best thing about the Windy City’s vintage scene?

Katherine: Everyone here is very cooperative. It sort of feels like a family. And the city is really supportive of part-time dealers who don’t operate official storefronts in the same way they are of shops that have an established brick-and-mortar presence. People “get” vintage in Chicago. A lot of people wear vintage clothes and decorate their spaces with vintage furnishings.

Libby: I agree there is a “family” vibe within the scene. I also dig that there is something for everyone, which is kind of what we try to bring together at TVB. You can snag a pair of early ’90s Jams shorts, amazing collectible art, a Barcelona chair, deadstock vintage eye frames, a ’40s dress, etc. at resale shops, flea markets, higher-end vintage shops, and so on.

With such a big family, how do you stay on top of the vintage pulse in Chicago?

Katherine: There’s something vintage-related going on here every week, from store openings, to markets, to trunk shows. Our vendors are highly industrious. I like to go to as many events as I can and talk to the dealers to see how things are going. Also, there’s nothing like the line to get into an estate sale at 7 in the morning for a little dealer chitchat.

Libby: I try to keep up with the exciting evolution our vendors go through, from renting their own studio, to getting an antique mall booth, to opening a brick-and-mortar. It’s exciting to watch first-time TVBers from February 2010 become full blown small businesses. I troll shops and markets to see who’s new on the scene and what kind of things seem to be hot.

Wow! So much works goes into TVB. How do you two celebrate a successful event?

Katherine: We used to talk about trying to take a minute or two at each show and just stand back and look at it and say, “Well, this was what all those months of work was about.” And try to appreciate it while it’s happening versus being all caught up in the small problems that arise, standing around directing traffic and pitting out. So we do take a moment to clink glasses during the event for about 3 minutes.

Libby: Celebrating isn’t something my mind let’s me do! Ack. But, remembering to look around and check out the happy shoppers and vendors while keeping the event chugging along is something that happens more often these days because we’re now working with an awesome production crew and it’s not just the two of us with a handful of volunteers and friends doing the bulk of the work.

Describe The Vintage Bazaar in three words.

Katherine: Brooklyn. Flea. Chicago. Just kidding! We have a running joke where all I talk about is the Brooklyn Flea so I get banned from talking about it. I’ve never even been to the Brooklyn Flea, but I like what they seem to be doing over there. Three words to describe the Bazaar? Portlandia meets Mad Men. No, wait! Curated modern flea. Libby? She’s the poet. Make her do it.

Libby: Curated modern flea is like our tagline, but I’d also say: Classic Community Connection. In these times, we’re all living inside of our computers and TVB gives folks a chance to hang out in real life, eat really good food, and create a personal style for their home and body.

That’s a great point! On your website, you offer free admission to people who bring cats on leashes to a TVB event. Has anyone ever done this?

Katherine: We haven’t had a show since adding that tidbit, so we’ll be interested to see if anyone takes us up on it. It has to be a trained cat on a leash, though. Not just a terrified house cat with a rope around it. Like a feline that actually regularly walks on a leash.

How cute is this vintage hanger? Photo by Kirk Bravender.

How cute is this vintage hanger? Photo: Kirk Bravender.

When you walk into to a flea market, what do you make a beeline for?

Katherine: The bar. There’s really nothing like having a cocktail and then getting loose with your wallet around Midcenturia. I’m really into anything yellow, as most people know, 1970s bohemian home decor, natural textiles, and bright, space age modern stuff.

Libby: I’m all about chairs and shoes with no allegiance to a particular era or style. I like what I like!

What’s your secret weapon when it comes to secondhand shopping?

Katherine: Lots and lots of one dollar bills.

If you can pay cash in any denomination you have a leg up from the shopper who wants to use a credit card for everything. Cash is king, it really is.

Libby: Cash is totally king. But my other rule is shop all of the time — not buy all of the time, but shop. Keeping your eyes peeled for whatever catches your fancy by frequenting flea markets, online spots like Krrb, and secondhand shops — that will get you that much closer to the hidden gems.

Those are great tips! Do you tend to buy first, figure out where it goes later? Or figure out what’s missing and buy second?

Katherine: My place is so tiny I don’t have room to make any rash decisions about home decor. I have a mental list of everything I’m currently hunting for and if I find it at the right place I snake it.

Libby: I used to buy and decide later, but these days I am more selective. It’s just the nature of the business because at some point your home is bursting with stuff and then you’re in a pickle because your boyfriend is pissed.

Katherine, what decade do you reach to the most when it comes to decorating?

Hands down, the 1970s. I think I identify with it most because I popped into the world in 1980 in the Midwest, so it was basically still the 1970s. I like the way the ’70s mixed the clean, modern lines of the 1950s and ’60s with softer textiles and brighter colors. And people were really into doing and making.

Libby, how often do you rearrange your living room?

It’s honestly been awhile — like a few months. Ha. I think I finally hit on the best layout for what’s happening in my entertaining, working, and hanging at home life right now. I used to change it up at least once a month though.

We know you can't wait to rummage through this collection. Photo by Molly Hayes

We know you can't wait to rummage through The Vintage Bazaar's collection of goods. Photo: Molly Hayes

Let’s pretend you have extra time in your day. What are you each working on these days outside of TVB?

Katherine: Yes, let’s pretend! Well, I make an attempt to sell boho ’70s home decor at Back Garage, and my husband and I have a plan to dominate the world with a 1970s office themed coffee shop where you can comfortably use your laptop and do freelance work, like meeting with clients at a Steelcase tanker desk.

Libby: I do some freelance writing and marketing work. I also write short stories. But, honestly, I am always thinking about TVB and dreaming up new events for Katherine and I to produce! I’m the mayor of workaholic town.

You really live and breath vintage. Can you give us the scoop on The Vintage Bazaar? What’s the most expensive thing sold there? The least? Who’s the most famous person you’ve seen browsing TVB? Did they buy anything good?

Katherine: I think the most expensive thing was probably around $3,000 — maybe some artwork or a fancy couch? And then, you know, other stuff sells for like 50 cents. I heard a rumor that one of the Cocteau Twins was at the first-ever market we did, but that was probably total speculation and not true at all. The most famous person who’s probably come to the market is Chuck McCarthy, and that was awesome. I’m just waiting for Nate Berkus to finally pay us a visit.

Libby: The most expensive was most likely a piece of art from Fine Art Pro. John Fisher has an amazing collection. The least expensive was probably a pack of Garbage Pail Kids cards from Kokorokoko’s booth. I’ve spotted Brendan Kelly from The Lawrence Arms at a few of our markets! I didn’t catch what he bought though. I hope now that we’re monthly the celebs realize we’re the hot spot and flock to TVB. Ha.

These ladies look like celebrities themselves. Photo by Molly Hayes

These ladies look like celebrities themselves. Photo: Molly Hayes

We have a feeling more than celebs will be flocking to The Vintage Bazaar’s monthly events. Thanks Katherine and Libby!

Visit The Market

The Vintage Bazaar is now monthly at the Aragon Ballroom with 150+ vendors of vintage decor, housewares, furniture, clothing, jewelry, and accessories, plus beer, cocktails, local food, music, and other fun stuff. Check out the available goods on Krrb.

Second Sundays in the summertime.
June 10, July 8, August 12, September 9
Admission is $5. Kids under 12 free.

Aragon Ballroom
1106 W. Lawrence Avenue
(Uptown just east of the Red Line Lawrence CTA station.)

  • Ainee Beland

    This interview was like having been there. Thank you for sharing!

  • Woo Hoo
     I’ll be there on Sunday June 10th sharing a booth with Delia from Amelia Bedelia!!
    See you there- great job ladies!!
    Visit RetroBabs Vintage- stop by our booth and say HELLO
    We’ll have typewriters, cameras and vintage clothing.