Located in the Near North Side, The Merchandise Mart is an iconic feature of the downtown Chicago area, and is widely known for its role as a leading innovator in culture, art, business, fashion, media and more. Spanning two city blocks, The Mart is a world-renowned center for high design and luxury goods, and welcomes nearly 10 million people through its doors each year.
The Merchandise Mart was conceived and developed by James Simpson, president of Marshall Field & Co., in the 1920’s to create a central marketplace under one roof – a virtual “city within a city”. Designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, The Mart opened on Monday, May 5, 1930, providing a place where retailers could come to buy their wares in one central location. Designer Alfred Shaw created the unique, modern concept of The Merchandise Mart by using an Art Deco Style that echoed the Chicago Board of Trade Building.
The Mart suffered a downturn during the Great Depression, and was converted into government offices during World War II. Purchased by Joseph P. Kennedy in 1945, The Mart returned to its initial use and gradually allowed public access, thereby ushering in a new era of merchandising. During the mid-1940s and 1950s, The Merchandise Mart became the single largest producer of trade shows in the United States, paving the way for Chicago’s booming convention and tourism industry.
Today The Mart is world-renowned as one of Chicago’s premier international business locations – serving as home to 15 major trade and consumer shows, and the corporate offices of many leading firms. In addition, its role as a leading wholesale design center attracts both professional buyers and consumers to its showrooms and events. With its distinctive presence on the banks of the Chicago River, The Merchandise Mart is interwoven into the fabric of Chicago’s history, culture, and economy.
Since the mid-1940’s, showrooms in The Merchandise Mart have displayed almost every kind of product produced. Targeting consumers, designers, and department store buyers, The Mart attracts every sort of professional and retail buyer to the building.
The “showroom” concept remains, as manufacturers and distributors rent showrooms on about half of the floors of The Mart today. Select showrooms are open only to wholesalers, with others accessible to the general public. Unlike stores with traditional displays, entire designed rooms are created, thereby providing consumers with an opportunity to compare form and function, while defining and refining their personal style aesthetic. Several stores offer items for purchase, while others offer design services, preservation, renovation, or installation.
In addition to being a resource for architects and decorators, the Mart also features a retail shopping area called The Shops at the Mart. This area includes apparel shops, beauty services, bookstores and newsstands, financial services, telecommunication services, travel services, specialty food and wine stores, photo services, a dry cleaner, shoe shine stand, a food court, and both a USPS and FedEx location. The Merchandise Mart has everything you need to create a beautiful home whilst getting any of your daily activities done – a truly incredible place to take in.