The Vintage Bazaar Is Not Your Grandmother’s Garage Sale

By Patty Wetli | Thursday, February 9, 2012

Katherine Raz and Libby Alexander, co-founders of The Vintage Bazaar. Credit: Meena Singh

Brace yourselves people: The term “vintage” now refers to the year 1992. You know what that means? Taylor Lautner is vintage. So is Miley Cyrus (feel free to insert your own “second hand” joke here). And if you were holding onto your old Barney dolls, WWF action figures and Nirvana cassettes, waiting for them to ripen, the time has come to make a killing on eBay. Or not.

“It’s not just people’s junk,” says Katherine Raz of one of the many misconceptions surrounding vintage. Raz should know: She not only runs the online vintage shop BackGarage, she’s also the co-founder, with Libby Alexander, of The Vintage Bazaar (TVB), a roving flea market that’s setting up shop in Lincoln Square this weekend at DANK Haus.

To clarify, vintage describes items more than 20 years old, whereas “antique” is defined as 75 and up. “It used to be that ‘antique’ was something from Victorian times,” says Raz. “Now it’s getting close to being from the 1940s. That’s scary.”

TVB showcases a heavily curated collection of vintage housewares, furniture, artwork, jewelry and clothing from more than 40 vendors, including Raz herself. In other words, this is not your grandmother’s garage sale. “Our vendors really know their stuff. Our dealers are some of the most quality vintage dealers,” she says. “They spend time in the the trenches of other people’s cast-offs.” So you don’t have to.

The hardest sell tends to be pre-owned (to borrow a term from Mercedes) clothing. “You have people that get a little skeeved out touching vintage clothing,” Raz admits. “I can understand that. At the same time, I use a public restroom. The vintage dealers who deal in clothing, they take really good care of it.”

Vintage jewelry on display. Credit: Nateene Diu

For Raz, who has a soft spot for Scandinavian plastic kitchenware from the 1970s, the appeal of vintage is two-fold. For starters, it tends to cost less than antique. “There are a lot of antique shows and they’re for a certain type of buyer–designers and collectors,” she says. “I would always go and look for stuff, but it was always too expensive.”

Where vintage is more affordable than antique, it’s also better crafted than modern goods. “It’s well made and it’s going to last,” Raz says. “There’s a reason that dresses from the 1940s are still around.” Post-World War II, the emphasis was on creating “these functional and beautiful objects for home and dress. Now, so many people have traded that idea to get things cheaper.”

Which begs the question, what happens in 20 years when plastic mugs from Target qualify as “vintage”?

“It’s hard to imagine the wedding gifts we get now will be collectible someday,” says Raz, much less the mounds of stuff accumulated from CB2 and IKEA. “There’s still good design, there’s still quality manufacturing,” she says, pointing to brands like Bodum, “but it’s going to be harder to find.”

As someone who makes her living searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, Raz often comes across items in thrift stores or discount outlets that are practically new–and that’s the best case scenario. “Really it’s just going into landfills.”

While not necessarily intended to be green, “there is a recycling value” to vintage, Raz says. “Things that are well made and can be re-used, that’s the cycle of merchandise. It’s a great way to be environmental.”

And a great way to support small businesses. The vast majority of TVB vendors operate out of their homes; only a handful have a brick-and-mortar presence. “At a market, it’s so much more exciting. It’s great to meet your customer,” she says. For shoppers, the TVB experience is equally unique. “You’re not going to see it if you don’t see it here.” Unless one were to tour vendors’ spare bedrooms. “And that would be creepy,” notes Raz.

TVB's Holidazzle event in December. Credit: Nateene Diu

Clearly Raz and Alexander have created a marketplace popular with both buyers and sellers. Having launched TVB in February 2010, coincidentally at DANK, the pair are now mounting their eighth bazaar. That first event drew a staggering 3,000 shoppers. “We were just overwhelmed, we were just unprepared for the turnout,” Raz recalls. “One thing we did wrong is we crammed 42 vendors into a space that could not hold 42 vendors.” The pair has remedied that situation by spreading the upcoming bazaar over two floors. “Mainly the aisles will be way bigger,” Raz promises.

Initially, the plan was for TVB to pop up at different storefronts across the city, an idea Raz and Alexander have since abandoned after discovering the hassle of reinventing the wheel with every bazaar. “Every time you go to a new space, you have to figure everything out, like where’s the loading zone. It’s so much easier working with venues that are used to events,” says Raz. TVB will now largely rotate between Logan Square’s Congress Theater and DANK, which provides amenities that include a liquor license and catering kitchen (yes, there will be food and beer).

Not bad for a duo who had no prior event production experience. “We didn’t know why we shouldn’t,” says Raz of taking the leap into promotion. “We didn’t write a business plan or do all this research. I was like, ‘How hard can it be?’ But it worked.”

The Vintage Bazaar at DANK Haus, 4740 N. Lincoln Ave.: Feb. 11, noon – 6 p.m.; Feb. 12, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; $5 admission for adults, kids free. CHIRP Radio will spin tunes, Smile Photo Booth will set up shop (Saturday only) and food vendors include Blue Sky Bakery. Gift bags to the first 100 shoppers.

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