Wolff’s Flea Markets

wolff's flea market

Photo Credit: Steven Koress

If you’ve ever dreamt of a magical place where you can buy samurai swords, fresh fruit, vintage beer steins and comic books, look no further than Wolff’s Flea Markets.

The quintessential American bazaar, Wolff’s outdoor location in Rosemont operates in the parking lot of the Allstate Arena on most weekends between April and October. For a measly $2 you can scour the fair for nine hours, more than enough time to haggle over all sorts of knickknacks. With hundreds of vendors hocking everything from baseball cards and military surplus to classic toys and computer hardware, you’ve got to try pretty hard to come away empty handed. My last trip alone netted me some old Nintendo games, a set of crystal Jagermeister shot glasses, a pocket watch, a Zippo and some limited edition Spawn Actions figures. How much did I spend? $25.

The people watching at Wolff’s is almost as solid as the potential deals. The market is as much a socio-economic melting pot as America itself. Every table tells a story, and often times those stories are the most interesting items being swapped. What sounds more intriguing to you, buying 100+ Smurfs figurines or spending two minutes talking to the person who has amassed said collection? Garage sale addicts will be the first to tell you that the voyeuristic pleasure of rifling through a strangers things, soaking in their personal history, can be just as satisfying as actually scoring a weird little trinket.

If inclement weather has you weary of meandering that massive Rosemont parking lot, or if you have a hankering for out of season bargain hunting, Wolff’s also has an indoor location in Palatine. Think the bootleg mall from Mallrats, only without a topless fortune teller.

Both locations are also an excellent place to rent space and unload your own crap/priceless artifacts. It’s not uncommon to see families or groups of friends pooling resources and reserving vendor space. With a guaranteed crowd of customers, it sure beats an impromptu garage sale. A table at one of Wolff’s locations is a great option for those looking to do some spring cleaning or lighten their load for a big move.

A few tips:

  • Get there early. Many vendors don’t stick around the full 9 hours, and some of the best stuff is bound to go first. Early bird gets the victrolla.
  • Stay late. Vendors don’t want to have to pack up and carry all their shit home. If you see a table being boxed, stroll up and make an offer. You’ll be surprised how little people will take for something just to not have to go home with it.
  • Don’t be afraid to haggle. First prices are often wishful thinking. If something is $20, offer $15. If you’re turned down, stroll by the table an hour later. You might get it for $10.
  • Bring a reusable bag. Kindness to Mother Earth aside, this is just sound planning. These sellers aren’t stores, and many won’t have bags for all their customers. If you plan on buying art, glass, or anything fragile, grab a copy of the Red Eye or the Reader on your way to the market. Rolled up newspaper is your friend.
  • Hydrate. In the summer, the array of bargains isn’t the only thing that’s dizzying. No one wants to be the guy who fainted while perusing vintage Barbie dolls.
  • Bathrooms are located inside the stadium. A few food carts, mostly selling hot dogs, chips and pizza, are located near the arena entrance.
  • Most importantly, bring cash. 99.9% of these vendors are not armed with credit card machines or credit card friendly payment apps. This is a flea market, after all.

The Essentials:

Rosemont Location: Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont, IL
Hours: Generally 6am-3pm. See website for detailed schedule.

Palatine Location: 1775 N. Rand Rd, Palatine, IL
Hours: 8am-4pm

Website: wolffs.com

Gene Wagendorf III

About Gene Wagendorf III

Gene is a writer who has spent his entire quarter century of life as a resident of Chicago. When not exploring the city he can be found wandering flea markets and garage sales or having a cigarette between classes at Northeastern Illinois University, where he hopes to acquire a degree in the next quarter century. His favorite smells are old books and bowling alleys. His poetry (how embarrassing!) can be found in issues of Kill Poet, Ditch, Word Riot, O Sweet Flowery Roses and Vowel Movements.

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