I went to Chicago last month to attend theInternational Home and Housewares Show for my job as a sales representative for Keena, and to see my friend Deb Boardman for a few days. Thank goodness I was staying with Deb and her husband Joe in their art-filled home, as it provided great contrast and relief from the monolithic trade show downtown at the McCormick Center. I had been to Chicago before to attend a press check when I worked for The Gap, but had never been the the McCormick Center nor to the Housewares show. To say the show was over the top, a trade show on steroids, would still be an understatement. I definitely felt very, very small as I walked the aisles by myself the first day I attended, and had to keep from gawking when I saw celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse and Guy Fieri as well as Mr. Clean himself!

I was happy to see my vendors with their familiar faces and products so nicely displayed, including Kikkerland, DCI, Teroforma, Menu and Corkcicle. The Housewares show is different from the other mostly gift shows I’ve attended or worked, in that not a lot of sales are written during the event. It’s mostly for schmoozing, and there are a lot of big corporate buyers in business suits, and meeting room booths for private conversations. I was wondering why one of my vendors was paying half attention to me until I realized his boss was speaking with the head buyer from Bed Bath and Beyond. Right, sorry, do your thing!


As I started to suffer from sensory overload, I stopped by one of our newest vendors, Mr. Henley, for a quick hello before I bolted for the day. Mr. Henley is the brainchild of David Long and his friend Todd Larrabee who met while they were both working for Radio Shack. Through his experience as a buyer, David has a vast network of sources for custom manufacturing around the world. That knowledge, combine with his sense of nostalgia for post WWII America, has produced an array of clever gifts for men of an era gone by, that is anxiously being sought by the younger tech generation. What young, working professional wouldn’t want a set of stainless steel bar tools wrapped up in canvas, leather bike straps to hold your bottle of wine, a canvas holder for your beer pong? All the products were carefully displayed on antique shelves and trunks, found by David and friends in downtown Chicago only days before the show. As the old-fashion radio wafted big band music around my head I knew it was soon time for a beverage and made my way out the convention center into the cold, grey Chicago landscape just as it was starting to snow.


Instead of a drink I found my way over to the Field Museum having never been before and always wanted to. Unfortunately they were just closing for the day, but I was able to visit their renown gift shop which was well worth the stop. I had met the director of the gift store before on a trip to Peru to attend the Gift Show in Lima for 12 Small Things. She is a big supporter of fair trade artisans and very well respected in the industry. Her influence was evident in beautiful display of goods in the museum store. In one corner someone had put together a collection of saris and other products from India that particularly caught my eye; quite an interesting contrast to the houseware show.

Realizing at 4:00 I still hadn’t had lunch, I hailed a cab just as the snow flurries resumed and ended up downtown by the old Marshall Field’s building now occupied by Macy’s. Entering their doors to peak at the old architecture, I found my way up to the top floor and the Walnut Room where I was encouraged to take a seat in the mostly empty, long established restaurant. I ordered the salmon salad and a glass of Chardonnay encouraged by my waiter and felt the spirits of yesteryear in old dark wood panels surrounding me. A young couple two tables over were talking about their upcoming wedding plans and what they would register for after lunch. Actually, she was talking and he was on his second cocktail. Just wait until you have kids, I thought to myself!


That evening after dinner at my friend’s house, Deb and I went to one of her student’s art shows at their home near Lincoln Park. One of the artists had installed a large sculpture in their outdoor gallery made tolerable by an improvised fire pit where we huddled with cans of cold beer in hand, talking to friends and neighbors who attended. Many thought I was lucky to live in California and wished they could too. I was happy to be heading home to the green hills of San Francisco, but so glad I could visit the windy city and appreciate all that it offered.

March 17, 2013 by Laurie Kanes