Chicago Street Festivals - A big deal (and effort) for small businesses

One of the greatest things about Chicago summers are the street festivals.  A chance to get out and walk some of the great neighborhoods in the city.  Kids, dogs, drinks, food and well drunks!

Monica Zanetti Art

This weekend, my wife and I moved from Fest goer to Fest vendor!  My wife, Monica Zanetti, in my opinion is a brilliant artist and has found quite a niche here in Chicago.  But enough with the soulless plug!

Instead of waking up at a reasonable hour and enjoying the walk, we traded it in for an early start, hard work, sweat and a little blood to show for it.  It was a first for both of us.  Monica had done some stuff out West (California) but this was going to be a step up from low key Art and Wine festivals.  This was Retro on Roscoe, one of the biggest festivals of the summer!  Roscoe Village Neighbors put on the annual event and is one of the only 100% volunteer run events in the city!

I have worked in retail, so I know what it feels like to have the business doors open wide to anyone that decides to walk in.  It can be an adventure.  I mean I once had a gentlemen come into my store in full Batman gear.  It was summer. WOW!

So we were ready for the unexpected.  Especially since Beer and Wine were sold every 50 feet!  We were not ready for the two 12 hours days. Our dogs were barking!

What I took away first and foremost,  was the passion and work the vendors put in.  As I write this on Monday morning my feet, back and every other part of me are aching.  As we sat on the street packing up the booth last night at 11pm, a Sunday night mind you, I was impressed by the bonds we had formed in just 48 hours.  We hugged and made plans for future get together after just meeting the day before!

The booth next door was a lovely woman (MCG Jewelry) and her boyfriend.  It was their first fest too and they were so generous with us.  They were selling her incredible jewelery that was all handmade by her and her sister.  We joked that Fest goers were lining up to pet their incredible dog (Elvis) and should be charged for the pleasure!  On our other side was a chiropractor offering free massages and assessments.  They were hustling most of the day, vibrating people young and old.  But the real show was, the booth across the way.  Victory Training was asking for volunteers to take part in a "Squat Challenge!"  Folks were to squat down on a medicine ball and do so as many times as possible in a minute.  People of all shapes, sizes and dress took part.  It was entertaining to say the least.  I mean some gals apparently forgot they were wearing skirts...OOPS!  Did I mention they served beer and wine?  But one of the biggest wins for us, came from Conexion Salon and Spa - on Saturday night when we were 12 hours deep and weary, they generously offered to let us store all Monica's work in their Salon.  This meant we could go home to bed rather than load up the car for the night!  I am not exaggerating when I say they saved us!  More specifically saved our feet that were blistered and sore.

The best part of the experience? It is an easy question to answer.  It was the people.  The many friends we had support and visit us was overwhelming and made us feel great!  But I think I loved meeting the new folks the best!  We made several connections with local business owners set up several opportunities to collaborate.   While email and electronic marketing is currently in vogue, it was the face to face time that solidified and really made the difference.  So while the cash register never rings as much as we'd like, it's important to see beyond the day's receipts.  It's about the journey!  It's about the new contacts and the future business opportunities.  It takes a lot of guts to put out your talents on a public landscape.  It takes even more to do it on a street, under a tent and welcome anyone who wanders in!

Retro on Roscoe

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