Brimfield: More than a shopping experience.
by experienced Brimfield dealer Clay Smith of Das Bulli Haus
Many have heard of Brimfield Antique and Collectibles Show but some of you have never made it. For those that have not experienced Brimfield it is way more than a place to buy some antiques. That said you should be prepared for the show if you go.
Brimfield is held 3 times a year, in May, July, and September, the week after Mothers day, the week after Forth of July, and the week of Labor day. It takes place on a mile long stretch of RT 20 in Brimfield, Massachusetts. It is made up of 22 “fields” that are run by different owners. The fields are on both sides of the street. Fields open and stay open at different times through the week. The fields start opening on Tuesday and many stay open through Sunday. There are some dealers that move from field to field mostly on one and two day fields. The weather will vary and it will rain, it will be hot, and it will be cold. Most dealers are under tents whether rental ones or their own and are prepared for rain. There are two fields that have pavilions but for the most part it is just a sea of tents. Some fields charge admission on opening day (or hours) but many are free.
Dealers come from all over the world along with buyers. There are 3000 to 6000 dealers at a show (depending on which show) and 100,000 plus buyers (it is tough to judge the amount of buyers as there are not any gates on free fields). The advantage for sellers like us is it is close so we take many trips up to setup. There are a lot of box trucks used by sellers that only make one trip. You may never see so many rental trucks in one place at one time. Most buyers are dealers but there are also many store and movie/TV prop buyers. The big famous department stores have crews buying too.
The advantage of Brimfield over a 1 day on the weekend show is you can have bigger things and can spend more time setting up (in most fields). We take about 2 plus days to set up and multiple trips. Can’t do that on a Sunday flea market. Many take advantage of this and do some great displays with a bit of humor. There is a wide variety of stuff for sale. You can get a 15 foot tall horse, a piece of mid-century modern furniture, a porcelain sign, some great toys or Stieffs (plug, plug), a piece of jewelry, or some reproduction pieces, and more. Yes there is reproduction stuff all over so do be careful. Most dealers will not hide the fact it was made yesterday but feel free to ask if you want to make sure. As with all dealers they may not know everything about all the pieces they have. If you end up seeing a piece only once in your life it will have been when you saw it at Brimfield.
A few tips to make your trip enjoyable. Do not get overwhelmed, many do. You really need 2 days to see most of it (the way fields open you can’t see everything in 2 days). Be prepared to walk. We walked 16 miles one spring show on Tuesday when we were shopping and setting up (mostly shopping). For the most part, the mud of years back is gone due to upgrades on the fields. That said it still may flood so have boots ready. For us we use slip on “farm” boots (Tingley are the best in my opinion) as you can slip them over what ever shoe you are in comfortable in. Keep in mind what you want to buy and be prepared to bring it back to your vehicle. If you buy big you can get into some fields to pick up your stuff but it is not easy to drive through the sea of people shopping. We use a hand truck with a basket and a backpack with some light blankets and lots of good bungee cords to hold it all on. There are plenty of porters ready to work for you if you want some help hauling your stuff. Some use porters only or bring their own crew to do their pickups. Bring cash, yes some dealers take credit cards or checks but cash is king. There are some ATM’s around so you can get a bit more if needed. Be ready to negotiate but remember that each dealer has a different marketing strategy and may not ever move off the quoted price. There are some pack and ship type places that set up there and also there are many dealers that are part time haulers and may be able to help you haul bigger stuff. If you have an issue with something that you want trying to figure out how to get it home ask the dealer they may have an option for you.
Fields open at different times. When some fields first open it is a rush that rivals Black Fridays (especially the pay fields) but is much more courteous. There are many “best” ways to shop a field but after you have been there you will know where to go to find your favorite dealer. There are a lot of people but it is friendly and nice unlike a normal retail busy atmosphere. Driving can be a bit more fun. Be ready to sit in traffic if you arrive and leave when the rest of the people do (seems to be 9 AM and 4 PM). Also during the day you will have shoppers crossing the street and lost drivers to make traffic a bit worse. Come early and hang out and leave late if you want to have a peaceful drive (and not road rage). Dealers are not forced to be open when the field is listed as open so you may see tents closed when you are shopping early or late. Some dealers leave before the weekend and many are gone by Sunday so you will not have as many dealers to choose from. That said you will find stuff and sometimes will get better deals on Sunday.
Food… what can I say but we eat good 3 times a year. There are many different types and styles of food available. You can get regular “fair” type food or a lobster bake and everything in between. There is one place that only sets up at Brimfield and is a caterer when not there. All the normal packaged drinks are there along with fresh squeezed lemonade or limeade and Dell’s (a RI based company that makes a frozen lemonade or watermelon“ade”). All of the food vendors are very reasonable as far as pricing, no $8 hotdogs. The show is in fields so there are no permanent bathrooms but plenty of portapoties that are mostly well cared for and decent. The ones in our field (Hertan’s) have attendants and are pumped out often.
If you like to people-watch you can’t beat Brimfield. Also with all the odd and weird stuff you can find to buy it makes for some great sights when the new buyers carry their finds home. The best from the last show was the top of a 3 foot baby bottle being used as a hat. If you like to take pictures or are an amateur / professional photographer you can keep real busy. Do ask the dealer if you take pictures as some get upset with cameras. If you want to take many pictures come back when the seller is slower, not when the field opens. We have regulars that visit when we are slow and are given permission to move stuff to take some great pictures.
The Town of Brimfield does a great job but likes to make rules that make the show a bit difficult for dealers. They do a great job of patrolling and have medical and fire ready or on site at all times. The police use foot and bicycle patrols. If you ever need them just ask and they will help. They also do a lot of work on any theft reported to them, not just write a report and file it. They used to have crossing guards and one was an attraction himself (there are some old YouTube videos of him). Unfortunately they have cut back and there are no crossing guards anymore. Crossing the street is not usually a big issue as for the most part traffic is slow (backed-up) during the day. Please remember when crossing that bigger trucks can not stop as quick as a car so be courteous to them (and the oversized loads are required to go the route that the permit says so they HAVE to go down route 20 when the permit says to). The fields have set times when they can open and if anyone is caught pre-selling the whole field can be shut down so respect the dealers when they say you can’t peak or make deals early. Only park in marked parking lots (where you are told to) or you will be towed. Different places charge different rates but the most I have seen is $10 a day (bigger trucks/trailers cost more). You can not park on the side of the road to load or pick up your stuff. Banned items will be confiscated. All dealers have to have a MA tax number and pay a town fee. There are lots of odd rules that they have for the field owners that for the most part you will never know.
There is usually a camera crew or 2 (or more) at each show filming for existing TV shows or for new ones. Stars are seen all the time, please respect them as they are just trying to be “normal”. Most are very nice if you want to say hi. Something to keep in mind that if you want to be on TV and not on the cutting room floor act normal and not stare at the camera, they don’t like that. There are also news crews from the local stations and some of the trade magazine people.
For the tech savvy and even those of you (and us) that just dabble there is now an app for your smart phone. It is called Brimfield Flea Finder and will let you find where you parked your car, nearest bathrooms, and ATMs. It will also allow you to search for dealers of stuff you are looking for, mark where you saw something you were interested in, or where you bought something. It is GPS based and also has important info like field times. I will say that is a product that is long overdue as I have seen those that have used antique methods to do the same thing (yes I did not miss the irony).
If you haven’t gone yet you now have no excuse. Remember go and have fun. For us it is the busiest and most relaxing week all year, yes it sounds odd but it is true.