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Rosemary Salerno: “Vintage Market Days has surprises around every corner!”

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No matter what the calendar might display, Rosemary Salerno says it is never too early to think about Christmas. The Kansas City, Missouri, native partners with Todd Sharbono to bring Vintage Market Days Kansas City to the metro. Thousands of attendees shop over 100 vendors from across the nation to find the perfect gift for that special someone. The event is known for its special focus on the holiday season.

I’ve always been a Christmas fanatic. I’ve been that way my whole life. Even when I worked retail, I never ever tired of the holiday season. Sometimes you talk to retail workers during the holidays, and they just want it to be over. But I always told myself if I ever got tired of it, I’d quit doing it, and I never have because it’s such a wonderful time,” Rosemary beamed. “You must do what you love because you spend too much time doing it. So if you don’t really love it, then that’s a challenge. I just love the spirit of the season. I love what holidays are about and spending it
with family.”

Rosemary’s focused on the holiday season for as long as some residents of the North Pole, and her extensive retail career could not have prepared her better for her role as the creative power behind Vintage Market Days. She began her shopping center management career in the 1990s with a marketing position at Independence Mall. Odessa Outlet Mall came calling next and offered her the manager position, where she learned everything about shopping center operations, from foundations to the rooftops. She eventually landed her dream job as the general manager of Zona Rosa, an outdoor shopping district in the northland of Kansas City.

Here, Rosemary fully employed her ingenuity as she created opportunities to bring back local holiday nostalgic favorites. First were the crowns that used to hang across the streets in downtown Kansas City. Even though they no longer existed, Rosemary tracked down the manufacturer and they replicated new sets to hang at Zona Rosa. They were an incredible success; thousands came to relive this childhood favorite. Up next, the long-lost Easter parade in which families donned their Sunday best and walked through downtown. That procession was revitalized at Zona Rosa.

Building on those successes, she partnered with the Kansas City Museum and resurrected the Fairy Princess of Kline’s Department Store, which was a revered Christmas tradition from 1935 to 1970. Her trips down memory lane turned into a huge success for Rosemary and Zona Rosa, plucking the heartstrings of all who visited. “When you can reach back to the past, you create this deep emotional connection with people,” stated Rosemary.

Rosemary is not a woman who can rest on her success. She continued searching for the next impressive get-together that would pull shoppers into the Zona Rosa spaces. “I was on the hunt for a gathering to replace our art fair, and I heard about this event called Vintage Market Days that had just come to Kansas City. Vintage Market Days is a franchise, with about 60 across the United States. This event was at the old Metcalf Center in Overland Park. So I said, ‘You know what, I’m gonna go check this event out.’”

Rosemary was so impressed that she negotiated to bring Vintage Market Days to Zona Rosa. She even became a vendor, selling her collectibles to the masses that attended. But other life directions were calling and she left Zona Rosa after more than 14 years of employment. But she didn’t wait long for a new direction. The Vintage Market Days franchise owners were moving to Texas and asked if she would like to buy the business.

“I never would have thought I would end up having the franchise but Todd, a colleague at Zona Rosa, and I bought it. We talked almost a year but finally signed the paperwork in January 2020,” she recalled. “And then the world shut down in March due to COVID. We had the business for only two months before the global pandemic. We’re in a bad spot because this is a gathering of people, and nobody knew what was going on. But we were able to launch our first event in the fall of 2020.”

Rosemary describes Vintage Market Days as an upscale vintage-inspired indoor market featuring original art, antiques, clothing, jewelry, handmade treasures, home décor, outdoor furnishings, delightful foods, seasonal plantings and more. But don’t call this a flea market. Think of it as an occasion to browse original, one-of-a-kind items to delight everyone on your shopping list. The gathering features live music, giveaways, delicious food and a family-friendly atmosphere. Local, regional and national vendors proudly share their creations with thousands of attendees. This year it was held the first weekend of November so the 2023 chance has already passed, but Rosemary promises another opportunity to purchase these upcycled, rescued, repurposed and vintage goodies at the spring show set for the early part of 2024. Details are still being worked out but look forward to a garden-themed event with many offerings and even live plants for sale.

“We have vendors from 15 different states, all of whom have antiques or upcycled items or reclaimed items. We do have some clothing vendors, and we have folks that make their own handmade jewelry,” she said. “This is their livelihood. We like to say it’s an experience because we have live music and lots of great food. We’ll have people demonstrating their craft and you can see how they make things. We have workshops that people can sign up for with our vendors who will teach them how they make their items. It’s a fun experience. I like to say a social event.”

Whether it’s a group shop with girlfriends or a family gathering, Rosemary is keen on making her event a far different experience than heading to a local retailer. “We have unique items that you won’t find anywhere else. You can’t buy this merchandise online. These are handmade items, one-of-a-kind. We tell people that when you buy your ticket for Vintage Market Days, it gets you in all the days we’re open,” she commented. “We always say come back every day because our vendors restock as they sell through their booths. Then they bring more treasures out of their trailers for the next day. You don’t know what you’re going to end up with and you’ll find surprises around every corner. It’s a fun experience for the whole family.”

While pleasing the attendees at Vintage Market Days is key to Rosemary, she also sees her work as a way to pay back the community by supporting local businesses. “We give small businesses an avenue to sell their products. We offer an environment that you won’t find anywhere else, especially online. It’s like a blast from the past when we would go to the mall,” she said. “But we’re impacting hundreds of small businesses by drawing thousands and thousands of people. I like to say it’s an old-fashioned destination shopping experience.”

Given that she’s constantly thinking about holiday giving, Rosemary is obviously a pro at shopping. But she does not go into a shopping experience with a complete list. She allows the experience to guide her. “I don’t necessarily go in knowing what I’m going to buy. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a formula for that. I simply listen when people talk and if they mention a particular item or memory, it can offer me ideas. I may see something and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s perfect for my brother.’ But sometimes the gift finds you,” she shared. “Sometimes there’s a story that you can tell when you’re giving the gift. When you are able to talk to the maker, they explain how they sourced those stones for that piece of jewelry or how they strung it or whatever. It’s telling a story of how the gift came to be that you can share with the recipient.”

From an extensive career in the management of retail giants to working in her enterprise to please the masses, Rosemary has years of experience to draw upon as she offers this advice to other entrepreneurs to help them get started or enjoy a successful career.

“Look at what you’re interested in. You have to figure out where the passion is, what you know. You know what you love. Since COVID, some people have discovered a side hustle and realize it can be a full-time gig. You’ve got to do that self-assessment, really understand what drives you, what is your passion. And then you can do that. You’re so far ahead of the game because you’re ready, even on bad days, and sometimes you can be frustrated by this or that in your job or your business. As long as you know the end game and you’re loving what you’re doing, you’ll get it figured out. I think that’s 9/10 of the battle. I can honestly say I’ve never worked a job that I didn’t love and that makes all the difference in the world. You’ve got to love what you do.”

So for the woman who is into the holiday mindset 24/7, 365 days a year, does she ever suffer from too much festive spirit? “No! It’s never too early for Christmas. I love it when I see they’re putting out Christmas displays in stores. I snap a picture and put it on my social media because I’m so excited. Then 90 percent of my friends say it’s too early or don’t talk about it. But I’m on the hunt year-round. I’m always on the hunt,” noted Rosemary. “It’s amazing how things have come together. I would have never dreamed that I’d one day own the very market I sought out so many years ago. But it’s been a ton of fun and I’m so happy we did it.”