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Chicago skyline view with words overlay that reads 10 tips from a NeoCon newbie.|theMART in Chicago|Cloud Gate in Chicago.|Kristin Crane taking a selfie at Cloud Gate in Chicago

10 Quick Tips from a NeoCon Newbie

I worked in the textile industry for many years as a designer, but it was always on the residential side. While our big trade shows were in High Point, North Carolina, I was always jealous of the contract designers who got to go to Chicago. NeoCon seemed fun, hip, and in a big city. Finally, I made it there in October 2021 with Design Pool. I love to travel and love planning trips. I also never travel without a travel journal, even for work trips. In my journals, I love to make lists at the end of what to do/pack/not pack for the next time I visit a place. As a NeoCon Newbie, I made sure to note things I wanted to remember for next time. If you’re a newbie this year, hopefully this helps you plan for a great NeoCon.

theMART in Chicago

Here are 10 quick tips from a NeoCon Newbie.

  1. There are lots of water bottle filling stations throughout the building. I brought a reusable bottle and filled it up throughout the day. Super easy and I didn’t have to keep buying water.
  2. I need my caffeine in the morning and if possible, I try to avoid the big chains so I can get a little local flavor. I loved Blue Bottle Coffee right across the street from theMART. The coffee was great, the vibe was chill, and we don’t have one in Rhode Island. Note: they brew each coffee as it is ordered (unless you’re ordering iced coffee.) The result is delicious, but it is not a place to go if you’re in a rush.
  3. The second floor of theMART has a number of restaurants in a food court kind of situation. Just Salad was a great surprise for lunchtime. You can even order online ahead of time for a substantial, nutritious, and delicious lunch.
  4. Also in theMART is a FedEx, but not a UPS or the United States Postal Service. If you’re an exhibitor who might have stuff to ship home, this is super convenient.
  5. Definitely layer to stay comfortable. This is especially true for exhibitors who aren’t walking around as much.
  6. Keep yourself organized. Between the keynote presentations, special programming, CEU’s, and networking opportunities, there is a lot to do and keep track of. Plus, you don’t want to miss your favorite exhibitors and you want to leave time for discovering your next favorite. Make a plan and put your plan on your phone, with alerts when helpful.
  7. Whenever possible, getting to and from theMART, walk along the river instead of at street level. This riverwalk is a beautiful amenity for the city and you also cut down on having to stop at traffic lights at intersections.
  8. The Art Institute of Chicago is worth it, but huge. If you’re limited on time, plan what you want to see and start there. If impressionism is your jam, they have one of the world’s greatest collections. Not into art museums? Pick something else inspiring to do for a mental break from work.
  9. Cloud Gate (aka: The Bean) is even cooler in person. I’d seen a gazillion photos of it and thought I got it. But just like most public art, experiencing it firsthand is different. It was really fun walking around and under it and interacting with it along with a bunch of strangers.
  10. A traditional taxi to the airport was way cheaper than Uber. Granted, timing matters, but a lot of taxi companies have flat rates from downtown to the airport, so it’s worth checking out. There is also a public transportation stop inside theMART that services the Brown and Purple lines. Rather than deal with a taxi at all, take a train.
Awkward solo traveler selfie at Cloud Gate.

What about you? Are you a NeoCon Newbie, or have you been so many times it’s going to feel like a class reunion? Whichever the case, we hope you’ll add Booth 7-3050 to your carefully made plan and visit the Design Pool team. We can’t wait to meet you!

Editors note: this post has been updated on 5/24/23 to make it as current as possible.

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Kristin Crane

Kristin Crane has designed jacquard designs for the home furnishing and residential jobber market for many years, with mills in the US and in China. She writes about pattern and design trends for Design Pool from her home in Providence, Rhode Island. When not writing about fabric, she can be found weaving on her Macomber loom, standing over a vat of indigo dye or hiking along the Rhode Island coast.


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