The doors of the Marriott Chicago O’Hare Conference Center opened to a large crowd of hundreds of attendees shortly before 10 a.m. People over the age of 60 lined up at the booth at full speed. Many people looked up the color-coded map with the location of each booth in advance and made a shopping plan, but it was easy to make a mistake for the Black Friday sale. It wasn’t the sale; it was the Chicago International Miniature Show.
Despite being billed as “the world’s number one dollhouse miniature show,” there aren’t many actual dollhouses. Instead, attendees sift through thousands of tiny objects that fill tiny homes, including miniature his sponges, chocolate his fondue fountains, rocking chairs, barbecue sets, Tupperware containers, and fly swatters. The show, referred to by many attendees as the Tom Bishop Show, is conceived by its founder to be the world’s largest dollhouse miniatures event.
The numbers seem to support that claim. This year, he had over 250 vendors from 21 countries and 35 states. More than 3,000 people attended, filling three large conference rooms and spilling out into the corridors. The week-long event, from April 24th to April 30th, features ticketed workshops on themes such as “Lobsterfest” (focused on making miniature lobster boil ornaments). It was included in the trade show and his three-day ticketed shopping for the public.
Bishop estimates he has put on more than 500 miniature shows around the world but has scaled back in recent years to focus only on Chicago, where he has been a regular stop for nearly 40 years. The hotel itself is also personal to Bishop, where he and his wife Leni, 77, spent the first night of their honeymoon. In 1977, they moved from Chicago to Margate, Florida, where they opened a Dollhouse store, Miniland, which closed in 1984 to focus on travel conventions.
“The largest miniature dollhouse convention” may sound like a silly distinction for some, but for sellers, it’s no joke. For many, the Tom Bishop show is where they want to make most of their annual sales. Ebert, 68, is a customer from Denver with his friends for the event. “Did you have a budget? Yes,” she said. “Did I stay in it? No.” It was the biggest crowd she’d ever seen in the seven years she’d been attending.
Beth Posen, a full-time postal worker who owns Mountain Creek Miniatures, drove from Spokane, Washington, to the convention to recoup transportation and labor costs and some of that. Christine Castenjjold, of Hartfurt Canines in Green Village, New Jersey, became famous for selling miniature dogs on Etsy.
The miniature buying and selling community is very supportive and fun. There are many reasons why people become obsessive collectors and makers. A sense of community is a big draw for people. Veronica Morales of Vero’s Miniatures said the show was a great opportunity to show in the US, where the miniature market is stronger than in Mexico City, where she is based.
Barbara Davis, was a former school principal and now president of the School of the International Guild of Miniature Craftsmen, where many of the competition’s creators took courses or taught. “This change is due to the young and diverse manufacturers entering the industry today,” said Ms. Davis. He added that IGMA in Castine, Maine had the highest enrollment last year of any school in its 40+ year history.
Bishop said he has already signed a contract with Marriott Chicago O’Hare for the next two years. But after 82-year-old Bishop ceased to be a showman, his children, Rachel, 48, and Rebecca, 51, are no longer working professionally with miniatures. Whether or not they want to take over the reins is still up in the air. Bishop, on the other hand, is thrilled with the status quo.