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Picking with a higher purpose at Randolph Street Market on ‘Market Warriors’

“Market Warriors” professional antiques pickers John Bruno (from left) Bene Rai Miller Gaffney  KevBruneau hope their finds rake most

“Market Warriors” professional antiques pickers John Bruno, (from left) Bene Raia , Miller Gaffney and Kevin Bruneau hope their finds rake in the most cash at auction.

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Season four; 9 to 10 p.m. Mondays on WTTW-Channel 11

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Updated: January 14, 2013 9:20AM

The hunters carefully stalked their prey, slipping mostly unnoticed through Randolph Street.

The big game?

A bear. Specifically a red bear holding up a round glass table.

Chicago’s monthly Randolph Street Market is the latest fertile hunting ground for the motley crew of antiquing professionals featured on the PBS reality show “Market Warriors.” The show tracks four pickers — those who buy to resell — as they scour America’s markets and fairs looking for treasures. Their finds are then sold at auction to determine who was most successful, or if anyone was successful at all.

It’s part reality competition and part history lesson, and gamesmanship mixed in with hard-core research.

“Antiques Roadshow is a journey of discovery and history with no commerce, no buying or selling, no competition to outsell someone else,” said Mark L. Walberg, who hosts both shows. “‘Market Warriors’ is just the opposite...It’s not always wholesome. There’s a little bit of backbiting, of game play that happens.”

There’s also a lot of shopping. Pickers are given a set amount of money and time to buy items fitting a theme, like the 1970s, in the Chicago episode, which airs at 9 p.m.Monday on WTTWChannel 11. (Their finds are ultimately auctioned off in Los Angeles for this episode.)

Around 3.3 million people on average watch “Market Warriors” weekly, and they’re not all professional antique buyers or sellers.

For the novice hitting the market for the first time, professional picker John Bruno suggests dressing down — don’t look like you can afford to spend a lot of money, even if you can. Buy with your heart and your mind, he said.

“One of the things I have said over and over and over, whether you’re buying antiques or modern clothing, start with what appeals to you,” Bruno said. “Find something that brings a smile to you, inside or outside, and start there.”

Make sure your smart phone is charged, said Bene Raia, another of the pickers who shops on “Market Warriors.”

“Pick up something, see if it has a signature, see if it’s marked,” Raia said.

Then Google it.

“Anybody who want to start antiquing, there is a ton of information on the Internet,” she said.

Both Bruno and Raia pointed to the Randolph Street Market as a place where the sellers know what they are selling. There aren’t amateurs looking to unload the junk collected from their house, like other markets, they said.

“The quality of the stuff, it just could not be random,” Raia said. “It’s not a random flea market. It’s more of an urban, sophisticated, we-know-what-we-have kind of market.”

The rarest find might be the market itself.

“There is not something like that in every town,” Bruno said. “There’s an inner city vibe most flea markets don’t have. Most are out in a field somewhere.”

Sally Schwartz, the creator of the Randolph Street Market, said the urban location and it’s limited space helps make the goods less trash and more treasure.

“We’re not in a huge cornfield like some of these other markets,” Schwartz said. “The people coming with the merchandise have already picked and preselected. You’re not sifting through garbage.”

Schwartz was a party planner tired of driving to suburban and rural markets for theme party props when she created the Chicago Antiques Market in 2003. The venture almost tanked in 2007 when the economy soured and people were hesitant to spend on antiques.

She renamed and reconcepted it as the Randolph Street Market, which includes not only picking but food. A falafel vendor makes a surprise appearance in the upcoming “Market Warriors” episode.

Schwartz is hoping “Market Warriors” sheds a bigger spotlight on the market and the Midwest antiques scene in general. Antiques collection has traditionally focused on the East, the oldest part of the country, or the West, where year-round temperate weather creates a dynamic outdoor market scene.

“Chicago and the Midwest always take a back seat for what others’ perceptions are,” she said. “I think the Midwest has the best merchandise, the freshest merchandise. They’re really into preservation here.”

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