Merchandise Mart now open to the public

July 12, 2010 (CHICAGO) The Merchandise Mart is opening its designer showrooms to retail customers.

However, the decision is not popular with many designers and decorators who -- until now--have had exclusive access to the Mart's showrooms.

The Merchandise Mart opened in the 1930s at 4.2 million square feet. It is the world's largest commercial building. For years, those who wanted to shop at the Mart for furniture had to go through an interior designer to get inside a showroom or prove to the showroom that you were working with a particular designer.

Now, the Merchandise Mart is open to the public.

"The public is going to really jump at the opportunity to really get to know this building and find out what is inside," said George Rosenbaum of Leo J. Shapiro and Associates.

More than 160 showrooms are not open to the public. Officials hope the move will increase traffic and business during the recession.

The Mart will now have customers work with one of its on-site designers.

"It's all through the design trade. It always has been. You have to use an interior designer to purchase here," said Brooke Hubbuch, Mart marketing manager.

Designers in the Judy Niedermaier showroom told ABC7 Chicago they support the Mart's decision to go public.

"It's about being more user friendly ," said Jeff Niedermaier of Niedermaier Furniture. "Absolutely, [it will be good for business]. You have to do everything possible."

Not everyone agrees. Mark Blumenthal of Deaurora has been a tenant in the building for more than 30 years and prides himself on the exclusive furniture they sell and create.

"I think the reality is that the slippery slope will take effect, and you'll get a divide between consumers who have lost exclusivity and consumers who don't understand the value of the product," he said.

Blumenthal says there are close to 400 interior designers who work with clients at the Mart. He works with 70 designers personally.

The Mart has selected 38 designers to work with the consumers.

"They have to get through an approval process for the showrooms, and they have to have glowing customer reviews," said Hubbuch.

"I think they are worried this is just another way for the Mart to remove them from the business they have always had. Yes, there is a buying program," Blumenthal said.

When you are ready to purchase items from any of the showrooms on five floors., an on-site designer will help you close the sale and provide you with a substantial discount.

Over the last 15 years, the Merchandise Mart's first floor-- filled with kitchen bathroom and floor showrooms -- has been open to the public. The Mart also has a dream home on display on the first floor and, each year, offers sample sales.

Mart officials hope that opening the entire design center showrooms to the public will be a boost for business. It is the only buildingof its kind in the country with all of those furniture designers under one roof.

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