THE WOMEN'S BOARD CELEBRATES 50 YEARS OF FESTIVAL FRIENDSHIP AND SUPPORT
It was the summer of 1972. Several ambitious members of the nascent Ravinia Women’s Board had an idea. They had been gifted copies of an attractive poster and a small cookbook containing favorite recipes from members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and guest artists—Claudio Abbado and George Balanchine to Seiji Ozawa and János Starker. If the women could resurrect an abandoned ticket booth from the maintenance lot, they thought they could sell the items and help Ravinia’s Sustaining Fund through a particularly challenging period.
After persuading the grounds crew to move the booth to a patch of asphalt near the Pavilion, they arrived early the next morning with buckets, mops, brooms, and scrub brushes. The Friendship Booth—Ravinia’s first gift shop—was born.
The project was an immediate success, and the Women’s Board quickly capitalized on its potential, recruiting additional community volunteers to staff the booth and provide information about the park while also selling a wider variety of items, including 35-cent bumper stickers and $5 sweatshirts.
To satisfy increasing demand for new product, the Women’s Board launched a poster contest in 1974 in partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Students reportedly attacked the opportunity with gusto because the prize was $50 and the artist’s name imprinted on each poster. The judges for the initial competition did as well, selecting three winners instead of one, as intended. The board nevertheless ordered 250 copies of each poster and sold them for $3 each—and promised that future contests would crown only one winner.
By the late 1970s, the Friendship Booth was “the place to go” at Ravinia for information and directions as well as souvenirs. More important, however, the proceeds from sales at the Friendship Booth increased annually and provided welcome support for Ravinia’s ongoing operations.
Realizing that there was still plenty of untapped potential, the Women’s Board began working with Ravinia management in the early 1980s on plans to replace the Friendship Booth with a permanent shop on the east side of the Martin Theatre. The new store opened on July 28, 1985, with twice the space for over 100 Ravinia-branded items, including “Choruspondence” note cards, Bach backpacks, Ravinia brass ticket key chains, mugs, picnic baskets, and blankets.
Success required even more commitment from the Women’s Board members who planned and ordered the inventory, stocked the shelves, kept all accounts, and supervised a sales force of more than 200 volunteers. By the early 1990s, Ravinia Gifts was the envy of North Shore retailers, producing sales that allowed the Women’s Board to contribute more than $100,000 annually to Ravinia’s Sustaining Fund.
Although the shop was only open during the summer, Women’s Board volunteers worked year-round attending gift shows to find new and exciting inventory for concertgoers. Sweatshirts remained a big seller on those nights when the wind shifted and brought cool lake breezes to shivering attendees. In 1992, the shop sold 5,124 sweatshirts—including more than 100 to Ravinia Executive Director Zarin Mehta, who was concerned about the health of the CSO musicians during a chilly afternoon rehearsal.
Both sales and volunteerism continued to increase in the early 2000s, along with the desire to contribute to Ravinia’s growing education and community engagement programs. When Ravinia offered the opportunity to open a second, walk-in store on the ground floor of a new restaurant building, Women’s Board members rose to the task of assisting in its planning, design, and construction supervision. The larger Ravinia Gifts opened on June 6, 2007, offering innovative product lines and a jewelry showcase, but above all accommodating crowds of new visitors.
When Ravinia refreshed and expanded the Dining Pavilion in 2018, the Women’s Board likewise improved The Festival Shop to broaden the selection of Ravinia apparel, gift items, and picnic gear available to concertgoers and online shoppers.
From humble beginnings in 1972 with a recycled ticket booth through a half-century of extraordinary dedication by volunteers, the Women’s Board has built a retail operation that has raised more than $16.5 million to support the festival and its year-round programs.
Today the walk-in Festival Shop is glowing up next to Lawn Bar in the Dining Pavilion, and the newest products can also be browsed at the walk-up Martin Theatre shop windows facing the Pavilion concert stage. No matter the site, purchases help the Women’s Board continue to support Ravinia and its education initiatives—and pave the way for even more creative opportunities in the future.
The Ravinia Festival Shop is a not-for-profit shop supporting Ravinia and its Reach Teach Play music education programs.
Ravinia Festival Shop
418 Sheridan Road
Highland Park, IL 60035