Monday, April 15, 2013


Wolff's Flea Market response is to Brian Dukerschein’s April 13 article, "Counterfeit Luxury Goods Invade Chicago". (In order to read the full Crain's article, you will need to register for free at

My name is Sharon Wolff. I am Creative Media and Merchandise Consultant for Wolff’s Flea Market, Chicago area. Our family-owned outdoor market has operated at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont since 1991. We also operate an indoor market in Palatine.

I am writing to several Crain's staff in response to the aforementioned article with the intent that this message be read and understood by many in the Chicago community.

Wolff's Counterfeit Cartoon
First, realize that not all flea markets tolerate counterfeit products. Wolff’s public stance is that counterfeit merchandise is never allowed. We work diligently to create a legitimate, family friendly venue for antiques, collectibles, bargain shopping, resale and new merchandise.  We have been told that given regulations and reputation, counterfeit vendors avoid us.

I have personally addressed and educated other flea market owners at the National Flea Market Association Conference regarding the issues of counterfeiting. Opinions stated in this commentary reflect the views of Wolff’s Flea Market. We are not legal experts. Ongoing product research is an independent venture that has resulted in the development of working procedures to combat counterfeiting at Wolff’s flea Markets.

Please refer our website, rules and several Wolff's Flea Market Blog articles written by me that attest to the fact that we take this issue very seriously.

Wolff’s Flea Market is wholly aware that categorical counterfeiting is a worldwide problem. We imagine an infinite amount of imported and locally manufactured counterfeit products that cycle the economy after bypassing numerous checkpoints (customs, ports, websites, alleged licensed wholesalers, a guy, etc.) along the way before trickling down to potential all-you-can eat buffets at local flea markets. We recognize that there are many agencies and authorities assigned to this task. In reality, not everything is intercepted or seized. It then becomes our responsibility to look for it at the flea market...

For us, as soon as we know, it must go. We closely monitor merchandise, and enforce strict procedures for our “Prevention-Identification & Intervention-Education-Research-Counterfeits-Everywhere” (PIERCE) Program. Research is an ongoing race and parameters of analysis are ever changing as counterfeiters attempt to “improve” upon their never-ending chain of products. I study current trends, commonly counterfeited brands, seizures, arrests, read books, subscribe to brand name news and counterfeit alerts. I consult designers, investigators, experts and visit retail stores, wholesalers, online sites and more. I write informative detailed reports. We have a growing list of specific brands that are never allowed to be sold at our markets.

It is critically important to realize what I encounter during “Research Trips” to privately owned “authorized” stores, wholesalers, kiosks and pop-up stores at malls. These ventures activate my “Merchandise Patrol” mentality. Sadly, while intending to study legitimate products, I CONSISTENTLY FIND COUNTERFEITS ALONGSIDE THE REAL ITEMS. Wolff’s recognizes that counterfeits are prevalent and unchecked in a variety of the above places. Even big box stores are not immune to the problem of counterfeiting or the occasional presence of unlicensed product.

At our flea market, we do our best to keep counterfeit merchandise out. However, as long as it enters the country, as long as fakes are created and re-created, as long as it is accessible, our job will not end. Nor will the jobs of any authorities on all levels. We get it, we are with you in this battle, so please do not generalize that all flea markets are havens for counterfeit merchandise.

Beyond the fight, one of our primary goals is to educate our vendors. As a special education teacher for 8 years I understand that people acquire information in different ways. I teach our full-time merchandise patrol staff and vendors using a combination of written materials, sample merchandise (real and counterfeit), and many photo examples. Once educated, we hope to believe that vendors will be able to make appropriate decisions regarding their sources and products. 99% of our vendors are agreeable and open to frank, honest learning and communication. They must learn the realistic legal dangers to themselves for selling counterfeits. I also create and distribute pictorial educational reports and news articles of arrests. If a vendor purposely chooses to bring counterfeit products to the market at a future time, then he or she is immediately and permanently ejected.

Pounding the pavement, fighting counterfeits, one item at a time.

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