Wolff's Flea Market says the state is wrong to block its reopening

  • Normally one of the biggest outdoor flea markets in the Chicago area, Wolff's Flea Market in Rosemont hasn't received permission from state officials to reopen. Its operators argue the market is being misclassified as a festival.

    Normally one of the biggest outdoor flea markets in the Chicago area, Wolff's Flea Market in Rosemont hasn't received permission from state officials to reopen. Its operators argue the market is being misclassified as a festival. Daily Herald File Photo, 2009

 
 
Updated 7/16/2020 7:24 AM

Wolff's Flea Market, a Northwest suburban staple for pickers, collectors and other thrifters, hasn't received state permission to reopen because, its operators contend, it's been misclassified as a festival instead of retail shopping.

The weekly Sunday morning swap meet of 760 vendors selling their wares and tchotchkes is normally held from April through October in the parking lot of the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. It's one of the largest in the Chicago area.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But organizers are holding out hope they'll still be able to host an abbreviated 30th season in Rosemont if they can convince state regulators that proper COVID-19 safety precautions will be in place.

That would include limiting capacity to no more than 5,000 at a time -- half the usual peak -- mandating masks for customers and vendors, and installing hand sanitizer stations throughout the 30-acre site.

"It's a shame corporate stores are allowed to open indoors and we're the small nobodies who are outdoors and we're being restricted," said David Wolff, who runs the market with his wife, Sharon, and brother, Don.

"We're no different than a Walmart," Wolff added. "Customers are coming in, they go shop, buy things, they check out. Again, it's outdoors. In general, (shoppers are) moving. There's no lingering."

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Wolff's has the support of Rosemont village officials, who rent their stadium parking lot to the market. But because of liability issues, the village requires the state to sign off.

"I think the bottom line is they don't think we're retail. They think we're something else," Wolff said.

A representative of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity issued a statement late Wednesday night: "The State of Illinois has not yet issued safety guidelines to allow flea markets to operate, based on direction provided by public health officials. Bear in mind, each phase of the Restore Illinois plan includes capacity restrictions and guidelines on group sizes permitted -- which will be assessed on an ongoing basis, according to the latest science and data. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity continues to work closely with businesses and industry groups to keep partners apprised as guidelines are developed to ensure a safe and gradual reopening of our state."

But at least a dozen other flea markets in the Chicago area have already reopened or are scheduled to in the coming weeks. The monthly Kane County Flea Market is set to resume Aug. 1-2, while Swap-O-Rama, which operates markets in Melrose Park, Alsip and the South Side of Chicago, recently reopened.

Wolff said he can't speak for the processes of other markets, but it's likely operators made the assumption that their markets classify as retail under state reopening guidelines.

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