By Nathan Falk[email protected]
If you’re looking for a treasure, there’s always something to find when Zurko Promotions is involved.
For owner Bob Zurko, the “hunt” has been something he’s been doing for 50 years now. He and his family have been promoting Antique Flea Markets, Flea Markets, Civil War Shows and Specialty Shows in the Midwest and all over the country.
“I used to be a Chicago school teacher. Every day I went to work I would go past the dump, and I saw all these things glittering in the water,” he said.
It was late 1968 when the dump, located in Chicago, was being bulldozed into nearby Lake Calumet. Zurko couldn’t resist a closer look.
“I drove in there, and all these antique bottles were floating in the water,” he said. “As they pushed the dirt into the lake, the bottles would float. I would go Saturdays and scoop up bottles, and I’d sell the bottles.”
Zurko was 21 at the time, only making a gross salary of $150 a week for his teaching job.
“This was more profitable than teaching – so I quit teaching,” he said
Zurko began promoting a monthly flea market at a VFW hall in Chicago. From there, he relocated to Shawano and opened the Shawano Flea Market in 1970, and according to Zurko – since then it’s been all uphill.
“Our markets host antique, vintage, and collectible dealers from throughout the Midwest in indoor buildings, open-air and heated tents,” he said. “We’ve expanded to include markets in Illinois, antique shows and flea markets in Michigan, Illinois, and mall shows in Minneapolis.”
Items usually found at the markets include a variety of antiques and collectibles, including country furniture, estate jewelry. postcards, art glass and porcelains, advertising items, old toys, vintage clothing and linens, coins, decorator items, paintings, primitives, treasures, and much, much more.
In addition to shows, Zurko Promotions also provides auction services for estates, antiques, and collectibles. They have even offered overseas antique tours.
“We would take people to Europe to buy antiques at the markets,” Zurko said. “As I’m directionally challenged, I’d always hire someone to take us to all the markets. That also turned into a business.”
As COVID-19 has hampered many of their regional events, the Shawano Flea Market has been consistent. Although opening in June instead of April, the market was set to run through Oct. 18. At their peak, the market has had as many as 100 vendors
“On opening day, we had so much traffic that we had to make the street one-way just to get in,” Zurko said.
As Zurko and his wife Irene live in Shawano, the Shawano Flea Market there has become his favorite event.
“Shawano’s my favorite because of the people – it’s an opportunity that brings a lot of business into town for hotels, gas stations and restaurants,” said Zurko. “It also gives the little guy the opportunity to make money just like the big box stores. People can also save money by buying things at the flea market.”
The business has always been about family. Irene, along with sons Tim, Adam and Andy have all pitched in. Zurko’s sister, Eileen, works in the downtown Shawano office, and Tim recently started a printing business there as well.
“Overall, it’s been an exciting 50 years with many great people, opportunities, challenges and rewards,” Zurko said.
Zurko plans to continue his pastime of treasure hunting as long as possible.
“I collect signs and old toys, nothing that’s going to make me retire, but it’s just fun. The hunt is the fun part,” he added.
Many of the signs can be seen during their indoor flea markets in downtown Shawano, located at 115 E. Division St. Indoor flea markets are typically held Saturdays, January through March.
For more information on their current shows and events, visit www.zurkopromotions.com