Good Morning NeoCon

It’s 9:20 on Monday morning and I’m already running late. Chicago is used to big conventions, but they tend to be held at McCormick Place. That’s located south of the Loop on the lakefront and they have a single room that’s almost a million square feet in size.

NeoCon is held in the Merchandise Mart—an Art Deco behemoth that’s just north of the Chicago River. It’s in the midst of an area teeming with galleries, design emporia, and new residential high-rises.

My taxicab is four blocks north of the Mart and stuck in Manhattan-like gridlock when I make my first NeoCon sighting. Two young women—obviously interior designers—are walking back to their office.

How can I be sure who they are and where they’ve been? Easy. First, they’re very overdressed for both the early hour and the already insufferable humid air. And they’re toting those ubiquitous goody bags, stuffed with brochures and swatches and who knows what else. I’d bet my press badge they’ve been pretty well fed during their early morning NeoCon jaunt.

For the next three days, 55,000 others will join me and this intrepid pair to make their way to the Merchandise Mart and wander more than a million square feet of design displays located on five floors of the huge building. There are over a thousand individual exhibitors showing everything from lamps to flooring, office systems to paint. If you tried to visit every display, you’d have less than 90 seconds to spend at each, and waits for an elevator in these crowds can seriously eat into your available time for browsing.

And now that I’ve done that calculation, I need to get out of the cab and start an awful lot of walking—and choosing what to see.

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