Despite state OK, Rosemont flea market gives up on 2020
Following months of negotiations, the proprietors of Wolff's Flea Market in Rosemont secured state approval to reopen, but with that consent came new rules they argue are excessive and unworkable, prompting them to officially cancel the swap meet for 2020.
"We thought we were free and were going to be able to open, but they kept putting on requirement after requirement," said David Wolff, who has run the weekly Sunday outdoor market with his wife, Sharon, and brother, Don, for nearly three decades.
Featuring some 760 vendors in the Allstate Arena parking lot, it's the biggest flea market in the Northwest suburbs and one of the largest in the region.
With the help of state Rep. Michelle Mussman and state Sen. Laura Murphy, and buttressed by a social media campaign, the Wolffs earlier this month persuaded regulators at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to reclassify the flea market as retail shopping, instead of as a festival.
At the same time, guidelines released by the department called for tables to be placed in every third spot, which the Wolffs argued would have made it unrealistic to open with enough vendors across the 30-acre site. Further emails and phone calls back and forth led the state to soften its stance, whereby the Wolffs said they would have been able to bring in 400 vendors a week.
But a new rule would require the Wolffs to conduct safety training and screenings and temperature checks of all vendors before they entered, plus a mid-shift screening if vendors were there longer than five hours.
Even though the vendors pay to be at the Wolffs' market, they are considered employees under the state's retail guidelines for health monitoring.
Temperature checks and trainings would have been "nearly impossible" to do, said David Wolff, suggesting there would be lines of cars for blocks waiting to get in. And he said farmers markets that have been allowed to reopen aren't required to do similar checks of their vendors.
"They're making these rules so difficult for us to operate," Wolff said. "Yet indoor malls and casinos and restaurants are opening. There's so much that's being opened that's so much more dangerous than our operation. It seems for some reason they're picking on us."
In an email chain among state officials Wolff provided to the Daily Herald, an attorney for the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said he has "no doubt (Wolff) is committed to ensuring a safe and proper layout for his flea market."
However, the state official said, the state must ensure vendors receive the proper safety training -- either in person or virtually -- and that they are screened to ensure they do not have COVID-19 symptoms.
Wolff said the earliest he'd be able to reopen the market is Sept. 13, but he doesn't think there's enough time to work through the guidelines to reopen by then, or at all this season. The weather also creates uncertainties for October, he added.
So he's focused his attention on reopening in April 2021 for what would be the 30th season of the market in Rosemont. He says he plans to continue negotiations with state and local agencies.
"One way or another, we'll find out a way to be open next year, even under the current rules, no matter how difficult they are," he said.