|Bob Doepel and Remi at Chicago Scenic Studios|
So here's the riddle:
What business makes something big that you see all the time but seldom notice?
These very large, custom-made products are usually unique: built once and never again. Each can cost millions of dollars only to be used briefly, sometimes just for a few hours, then thrown away.
Hint: you don't see their work often because your attention is focused on the people in front of it.
Chicago Scenic Studios creates stage sets, museum displays and the physical contours of public spaces at trade shows, conventions, parades, and at least one war.
Their Cermak Road headquarters is an enormous, sleek industrial building, with 165,000 square feet of clean, soaring space that looks like someplace NASA would use to assemble communications satellites.
So big, you hardly notice the 50 full-time employees.
It was started 40 years ago by Bob Doepel, whose flat-coated retriever Remi has the run of the place.
Born in Chicago, Doepel came out of Carnegie Mellon with a master's degree in fine arts and an interest in theater production. He started at a small theater in Lake Forest, and grew to focus more on arts than commerce.
"So many people do trade shows, we decided we'd rather be a big fish in a smaller pond," he said. "There are not that many theatrical shops. We do a lot of environmental branding. We do a tremendous amount of museum work."
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|Beth Smith, head of the metal department at Chicago Scenic Studios, uses a water jet to cut through half-inch thick aluminum plate to make supports for a truss arch that will decorate Northwestern's April 21 Starry Night gala.|