Wolff's Flea Market fighting to reopen in Rosemont, says COVID-19 restrictions too strict

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Saturday, August 15, 2020
Local business owners fighting to open popular flea market
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Some local business owners turned to the I- Team because Illinois restrictions have not been allowing them to sell goods at a popular flea market.

ROSEMONT, Ill. (WLS) -- Some local business owners turned to the I-Team because Illinois COVID-19 restrictions have not been allowing them to sell goods at a popular flea market.

It's been a fight to reopen Wolff's Flea Market in Rosemont. Some of the business owners who rely on the market to pay the bills said they were told it was considered to be a festival and so they could not open.

"They have our life in the balance, they have all the other vendors, most of them depend on it. We depend on the flea market for the income," said Maria Canchola.

Canchola and her husband Louie have been selling safety vests and clothing at Wolff's for nearly 20 years. This year is the first year they haven't been able to set up shop, due to the pandemic.

"It's almost 60-70% of our income," she said.

David Wolff started the outdoor flea market almost 30 years ago at the Allstate Arena parking lot. He said efforts to reopen have hit several obstacles, including how flea markets are categorized by the state.

"Several weeks later they got back to us and said 'No we categorize you as a fairs, festivals and carnival' and we were like huh? We're nothing like that at all, we have people selling and people buying, we're pure retail," Wolff said.

Finally last week there was a small victory for Wolff and vendors when the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity determined that safety guidance would now allow "indoor and outdoor flea markets to operate at a significantly reduced capacity."

However, Wolff said that reduction and new rules to open will most likely keep his flea market closed.

"The spacing between vendors is excessive, they're requiring 50 feet because it is every third space. Fifty feet is excessive. It does not allow us to have enough vendors to operate," he said.

Wolff said the limit on vendors will keep the flea market from being profitable.

Requirements that vendors bring extra tables to serve as barriers could also make participating too difficult.

"We'd virtually have no vendors because it would require thousands of dollars of investment for those vendors to operate. They are micro businesses," said Wolff.

The state said it's "been in touch" with some flea market operators about the new concerns. Wolff said he's hopeful that regulations will ease.

"We need our flea market we need to be able to sell our merchandise," Canchola said. "We have merchandise that we bought in the winter, hoping to sell for spring, the rainy season, and it is just sitting there."

Some of the vendors said they are now selling some of their merchandise online in places such as Facebook marketplace, but they said it's not nearly enough to cover the bills.

But on Saturday, Wolff said newly-adjusted guidelines will allow the market to set up operations.