The Show Must Go On

Getting there was the hard part. Those of us travelling from Toronto to Chicago that Sunday morning in June will remember NeoCon 2008 -the 40th annual edition of North America’s largest exhibition of contract furnishings -as the NeoCon of cancelled, rebooked and delayed flights. Tornados touching down across Chicago’s south and southwest suburbs shut down O’Hare Airport for a good part of the day. Eventually, after a white-knuckle flight, we arrived -at midnight rather than noon. As an unexpected bonus, I was upgraded to a hotel suite the size of the Ritz.

Taking the bad with the good, with the latter outweighing the former, characterized the whole NeoCon experience for me.

While total attendance (approximately 50,500) was down four per cent from last year’s show, it was still up 15 per cent from 2005. Despite faint rumblings about the sad state of the economy, the mood on the multiple floors of the venerable Merchandise Mart, housing 12,000 exhibitors, was resolutely upbeat. And though no big blockbuster introduction emerged as the definitive “best of show,” there were humbler hits galore -a selection of which you’ll see in the following pages.

My only disappointment? This being NeoCon’s 40th, I had expected some sort of retrospective. “We consciously decided not to make a big deal about it,” Mark Falanga, senior vice president of Merchandise Mart Properties, told me. “We didn’t want to take away from the exhibitors.” Fair enough. But the sole acknowledgement of the occasion -40 years of posters on display in the press room -left me wanting more. Perhaps we can look forward to a full 50th-anniversary restrospective in 2018?

In the meantime, NeoCon 2009 runs at the Merchandise Mart (where else?) from June 15 to 17.