Enter your email for updates:
Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

ASI Chicago: Hot Time, Summer in the City

Filed under: Travel

Hi Everyone!

I just got back from an epic trip to Chicago to spend time with my girls Sharon Biernat (Creative Promotions), Jill Albers (Shumsky) and Natalie Townes (Shepenco/Shelbyville Pencil and a PPAI board member) and attend the ASI Chicago Show, one of my favorites. The show was great but, as always, it’s what happens after hours that always piques my interest. Let’s start with the heat. The weather in Chicago was hot — like safari-on-the-Serengeti hot. But that didn’t stop the vikings in our industry from behaving like the raging rock stars they are.

What follows are tons of photos from my six-day stint in Chi-Town, filled with Valhalla decadence. For the next two weeks, until the SAAC Show, I’m putting myself in self-imposed lockdown to dry out, consuming nothing that’s been distilled, fermented, grown or harvested… Just sayin’.

Look forward to seeing you all in Long Beach early next month for SAAC (www.thesaacshow.org), where I’ll be attending to support my pal Craig Reese from Jack Nadel Int’l., the current president. SAAC has a place near and dear to my heart as “Greyhounds by the Pool Day” (set-up day) is one of my favorites of the show season. 

Enjoy the photos and see you all soon!



PS: Bonus game: Let’s see how well you know the girls! The first person who matches the correct quote with the sassy lass who said it wins a $100 gift card. Post your guesses below!

__ “We were all born with two kidneys … why not two livers?”

__ “Why does Shenanigans always reek of regret and disgrace?”

__ “I’m a natural blond … in my soul.”

__ “We’re like the stoned Sex and the City.”

a) Natalie Townes

b) Sharon Biernat

c) Jilly Albers

d) Michele Bell

The weekend before the ASI Chicago Show, Shepenco’s Natalie Townes (left), Shumsky’s Jill Albers and I flew into the Windy City to spend a few days as guests of our pal Sharon Biernat of Creative Promotions. Sharon and her husband, Bob (All Hail, Bob!), own a fabulous townhouse on the block between the majestic Lake Michigan and the dueling dens of iniquity, The Lodge & Shenanigans. Did we have a time? Sharon, Jilly, Natalie and I — the Wrecking Crew — did some damage. And there may or may not have been a night cavorting with sailors. Yep. Sailors. Too. Much. Fun.  
Looking for a fantastic place for dinner in Chicago? Try “Q,” a swanky spot specializing in down-home barbeque. Having never had a “hushpuppy,” this chica is now a fan of deep-fried dough, not to mention fried green tomatoes and pickles steeped in seasonings. Word of caution: The mint juleps were to die for, though just below morphine on the “render you immobile” litmus stick. Here’s Sharon and Natalie (photo on left) and Sharon and her husband Bob — who has the most sublimely dry wit ever — at Q.  
Have you ever been to The Lodge, the bar on Division Street in Chicago? Let me end the suspense for you: It hasn’t won any James Beard awards and has exactly “zero” Michelin stars. With a dark, dank atmosphere akin to your grandparents’ wood-paneled basement, it has all the allure and charm of a VFW hall. However — and this can not be overstated — I adore this place! There’s something about its dive bar skeeziness that appeals to my more degenerate side. This is one of the many nights during our six-day stay in Chicago that Natalie, Jilly, Sharon and I planted ourselves at The Lodge like lawn darts. Here’s Natalie and Jilly (photo on left) and Jilly and Sharon enjoying the highbrow ambiance.  
Ever hear the one about the guy who walked into a bar with a bottle of booze stuck to his head? Yeah, well, on this night at The Lodge, it actually happened. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Can Head, apparently a worldwide phenom (he’s been on The Ellen DeGeneres Show!) whose claim to fame is that cans and bottles stick to his skin. Now, lest your first inclination be to mock, Can Head has a Facebook following, his own agent and an “ambassador.” If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it — a full bottle of liquor stuck precariously on the back of his shiny head, and cans and random patrons’ cellphones stuck to his body. Only at The Lodge could one see such top tier entertainment.  
Here’s Jilly and the famed Can Head. One day, Jilly’s children will look back at this photo and have so many, many questions for their Mom…  
There’s a naval training base in Chicago and on this particular night in the city, sailors blew through town like pollen. Tucker, a particularly accommodating seaman, let Natalie and Jilly wear his jaunty little cap.  
ASI’s Sean McGuigon (left), an account executive with the Supplier Internet Sales team, and Gene Rahill, aka, “The Strutter,” ASI’s director of Digital Advertising. If you’ve never seen Gene’s gait, it is something to behold — much like John Travolta’s iconic on-screen entrance in Saturday Night Fever. (From left): ASI’s president & CEO, Tim Andrews; ASI’s vice president of supplier sales (and my work husband), Ron Ball; and ASI’s Canadian emissary Fred Oesen (or, the Prime Minister, as I call him) after ASI’s supplier sales meeting at the Hilton, before the start of the ASI Show in Chicago.
(From left): ASI’s senior vice president of professional development & editor-in-chief, Melinda Ligos; ASI’s executive director of education and editor of Stitches magazine, Nicole Rollender; and Kathy Huston, editor of Advantages magazine, doing those weirdo fish-face trout pout poses ‘Tween girls do on Facebook. (From left): Colin Graf, ASI’s marketing director for supplier membership and digital advertising; me and Andy Cohen, editor of Counselor, at Kitty O’Sheas in the Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue — a place I spent way too much time while in Chicago. (How do I know? Multiple wait staff greeted me by name as the week wore on… Oy.)
Fred Oesen and Ryan David, ASI’s supplier sales rep extraordinaire for the Canadian market. My girl Jilly is 6′ tall barefoot and she loves to rock her high heels, which can bring her to the Glamazon height of 6’3″-6’4″. Here she is with Fred Oesen, who’s standing on a chair just to get the height advantage.
(From left): ASI’s Barbara Ambrose, executive assistant to Rich Fairfield; Lauren Marshall, team leader for ASI’s digital ad operations; Suzanne Izzo, ASI’s digital advertising manager; and Krista Taylor, ASI’s Supplier Internet Sales account exec. Love, love, love these ladies! Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of the UK-based Sourcing City, with whom ASI just announced a strategic alliance, along with PSI (http://www.promoalliance.com/); Counselor editor Andy Cohen and Advantages editor Kathy Huston. We all adore Alistair and he fits right in with our crazy crew.
A visitor from the UK with Alistair Mylchreest, meet Kiran Somaiya with Sunray Import based in England. Kiran was beyond sweet and charming. Two of the most well-known and hilarious celebs in the industry, Shepenco’s Dan Townes (left) and Newton Manufacturing’s Jay Donlin. Years ago, I was with Dan at dinner one night at the Palm restaurant in Dallas for the ASI Show when he picked up a 10-oz. side of beef from his plate and hurled it at the unsuspecting man next to us. Horrified, I shrieked, “Dan!!!” “Relax,” he replied with his slow Tennessee drawl and without missing a beat. “That’s my friend Jay Donlin, and that’s how we say hi to each other.” True story.
Jay Donlin’s lovely wife, Kathy, Sharon Biernat and Natalie Townes in Sharon’s kitchen at Chez Biernat. Fact: Kathy Donlin has the most breathtakingly blue eyes I’ve ever seen.  
My pal Eric Johnson (“E” to you and I), owner of Halls & Co./IDLine, with his daughter, Erin. Erin and her brother, Colin, used to appear in magazine ads for the company when they were little kids, so it’s so cool to have watched them grow up and now work in their Dad’s booth at trade shows.  
ASI managing editor, my editorial “handler” and star of The Joe Show, Joe Haley, sporting an item he found on the show floor. He looks like a Mexican wrestler, “Numero Zero.” Shumsky’s Jilly Albers and her “new favorite person,” Sourcing City’s Alistair Mylchreest.
Jilly Albers and the one and only Brian Hiner, a legend in the Chicago promo industry. Brian has always reminded me of Alec Baldwin — just as funny and equally as memorable. He rocks!!! My pals Devin Piscitelli (left), owner of Aakron Rule, and Brad White, vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Boundless Network, at the awesome PromoKitchen party. Are you familiar with the term duende? Brad has it in spades…
Roger Burnett, sales manager for Counselor Top 40 distributor WorkflowOne, shown here with his pal Jilly Albers. Roger was named as one of Counselor‘s “Hot People to Watch” in its just-released August issue. The always gracious Mark Godsey (left), owner of Counselor Top 40 supplier Gold Bond, and CJ Schmidt, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products, and one of the best guys in the industry.
One of my all-time favorites, the enigmatic Scott Siegel, owner of R.S. Owens, shown here at the PromoKitchen party with a pal. Scott is so cool in that hip, urbane kind of way it should come as a surprise to no one that he just returned from running with the bulls in Spain. Truly, in more ways than one I would describe him as “Hemingway-esque.” (From left): Jetline’s Dana Zezzo, Aakron Rule’s Devin Piscitelli and Gold Bond’s Mark Godsey at the PromoKitchen party held at the muy caliente Mexican bar Zapatista’s in Chicago.
My girl Sharon Biernat with ASI’s president & CEO, Tim Andrews, at one of Ron Ball’s famed client dinners, this time at the amazing Capital Grille. I call Ron’s dinners the “Bar Mitzvahs” because there are always a ton of people and they are too much fun. All that’s missing is people being hoisted up in chairs singing Hava Nagila. Two new friends who attended Ron’s dinner, Miro Turcaj with the distributor One Source Group in Canada and the lovely Ellen Star, with St. Regis Crystal. They were so delightful and excellent dinner companions.
Oh, holy hell: Look at this crew! (From left): Anico Int’l Plush’s Larry Sitten, Points of Lights’ Scottie Nussinow, Illini’s Sabrina Wilt and Chrissy Ocheltree, Logomark’s Damian Want and Points of Lights’ Reagan Holm. There’s a wildly entertaining book called Hellraisers about the legendary, libertine times of Richard Harris, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. Meet our industry’s version of the triumvirate of questionable behavior! ; ) (From left): Larry Sitten, Scottie Nussinow and ASI’s Ron Ball, the host with the most.
Jill Albers with Joshy Goodelman (left), vice president of sales for Liqui-Mark and a member of this year’s Counselor Hot List, and Points of Light’s Scottie Nussinow. Randy Seltzer (left) and Roee Tadmor of Tekweld. Hand to God, at the next show we both attend, Roee, you and I will cocktail like jetsetters!
Another new member of this year’s Counselor Hot List, Taylor Tadmor, owner of Tekweld, and My Sharona, Sharon Biernat, at “Uncle Ron’s Bar Mitzvah Dinner.” Awww. This photo makes me smile… Here are my friends Tim O’Boyle and Jamie Raynor from JournalBooks. We always try to have dinner together once during the Orlando Show to kick off the ASI show season and once during the Chicago Show to end it. Love them both to the depths of my soul…
Back story: Poor Brad White. He was inches from a clean getaway, leaving the Counselor Hot Party at the Crimson Lounge in Chicago, when Natalie Townes (left), Sharon Biernat (right), Jilly Albers and I literally kidnapped him, threw him into a cab and made him party with us at The Lodge. I think he had Stockholm Syndrome by the end of the evening… Good Lord. I look like Lady Mayhem from the House of Chaos. (From left): Sharon Biernat, Jilly Albers, Natalie Townes and me, on our last night together, hanging out at The Lodge. A few of our conversations were so surreal, hilarious and racy, I need some brain bleach just to think clearly. Cheers to the girls for the best weekend ever!
My pal Brett Hersh, owner of Admints/Zagabor, shown here with Cory Schroepfer, who owns the multiline rep group, Bridge Marketing. One of the hottest on this year’s Counselor Hot List, Jeff Hinds, sales manager at Rainkist, with Jilly Albers, late night at Shenanigans.
The illustrious Ross Silverstein, president/CEO of Counselor Top 40 distributor iPROMOTEu, with Shepenco’s Natalie Townes. At every show I attend, I try to meet three new, fun, cool people to add to my list of industry friends: These two made my list in Chicago! Meet Jeff Wheat (left), national salesperson for AlightPromos (http://www.alightpromos.com/), and Chris Camarella, owner of the company. Search these guys out at the next show you attend — they are fantastic!
Admints’ Brett Hersh and my gal pal Sharon Biernat.