Big Chair Photos furnish more Big Gig smiles
Martin Weintzweig lives in a world where anything is possible, including making a living from an enormous chair.
For the 15th year, Weintzweig is back at the Big Gig offering Big Chair Photos. Located on the south end of the grounds across from the BMO Harris Pavilion, Big Chair Photos invite individuals, couples or groups to pile onto the large leopard-print chair, which is 6 1/2 feet high and 4 feet deep, to take a souvenir photo.
"There is no limit to how many people we let on the chair. As many as can fit on it," says Weintzweig. "We've had 15 people on there before."
Props – including oversized beer, soda and milk bottles, rubber ducks and ice cream cones – are also available to "fun up" the photo.
Weintzweig, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., spends his summers driving around the country in a truck large enough to accommodate his chair – "big chair, big truck," he says – and sets up shop at numerous outdoor festivals. After Summerfest, he will stay in Milwaukee for Bastille Days, then eventually move on to Denver's A Taste Of Colorado and Eastern States Exposition – also known as The Big E – in West Springfield, Mass.
Years ago, Weintzweig spent every weekend at festivals, but has narrowed it down to the events that are the most worth his time and energy.
"Now I know what works for me the best, and Summerfest is one of my favorites," he says.
In the winter, Weintzweig is able to take it easy, spend time with his family and watch his kids play hockey. "I'm lucky; my wife has a great job, and she is very supportive of me," he says.
Originally, Weintzweig took photos with a Polaroid camera, but switched to digital about seven years ago.
Today, 4-x-6 photos are $5, but larger sizes are available for $8 or $12. Weintzweig cuts deals to groups or for anyone who wants numerous copies.
Weintzweig learned the Big Chair business from his uncle, who he refers to as "the original big chair guy." Weintzweig worked for his uncle while growing up in Brooklyn and eventually built his own chair and started his own version of the biz.
"Building the chair was a lot of trial and error," he admits.
One of Weintzweig's favorite aspects of his work is the tradition it serves for many of his customers. People often use Big Chair photos to chronicle their lives, and some have returned to show him their collections.
"The first photo will just be the couple, then one with a kid and sometimes another with the whole family that's grown to four or five," he says. "To me, that's very heartwarming."
During our interview, a group of five annual customers came to sit in the chair. They were all wearing shirts in tribute for a friend who had passed away and, for the first year, would not be in the photo.
"He's still here in the chair with us," says one of the women.
Milwaukee's Kelley Arlt is also a chair regular.
"My two best girlfriends and I get our pic in that chair every year. At this point, it's tradition, and we don't like to mess with tradition," says Arlt.
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