A Condensed Guide to the Brimfield Antique Show
Don't try to navigate the acres of tents without reminding yourself of these tips.
If visions of vintage goods have been dancing in your head all year, you’d better be well-rested for the upcoming Brimfield Antique Show.
Since 1959, the show has roused thousands of antique lovers from their beds at daybreak every May, July, and September. It’s the largest outdoor gathering of antiques and collectibles dealers in the country—and it’s only a little over an hour’s drive outside of Boston.
Among a sea of more than 200,000 visitors sit 6,000 dealers peddling antique furniture, clothes, rugs, maps, lamps, art, and more. They’re spread across 20 different privately owned shows in several fields on both sides of Route 20 in Brimfield.
Brimfield is a special corner of the world, but there’s a right and a wrong way to navigate the Antique Show. Whether you’re new to the Brimfield experience or you’re a seasoned pro, here are a few things to keep in mind.
The Obvious Tips
No sandals. In the early morning, the grass is dewy and the ground is muddy. And when the sun comes out and visitors shuffle from tent to tent, clouds of dirt and dust are kicked up. So wear comfortable sneakers (even if it’s really hot).
Always get Faddy’s Donuts. Always. “For some reason they’re the best in the world,” says Alison Beaudette, vintage buyer for the Worcester-based mobile clothing store, The Haberdash Vintage. “I always get those and a lemonade. That’s the go-to Brimfield snack.”
Don’t forget that you can negotiate. If you’re not a flea market-frequenter, you might forget an item’s price tag is usually flexible. Shoot a few dollars lower than what’s listed, or ask a dealer what their best price is. While some vendors use Square or other mobile payment readers, most don’t. Remember to bring cash so you’re not suck with ATM fees.
Make sure there’s a lot of space in your car—even if you’re not planning on making big purchases. Brimfield is filled with many wondrous and curious objects, and you don’t want to have to pass up on something because you don’t have enough room to get it home.
“You can find anything in the world here, and you’ll never see some of the things you see here again,” says Justin Pomerleau, owner of the show’s Traveling Spectacular booth and Allston’s Oliver Best Vintage Markets.
This is seconded by Beaudette, who’s grown up participating in the annual antique extravaganza with her family.
“Brimfield is a time where I think it’s acceptable to splurge on stuff for yourself, buying something extra cool that you can’t find somewhere else,” she says.
You can strategize which day (or days) you go. Sunrise on opening day is when the dealer community scopes out the fair, according to Pomerleau. He’s encountered shoppers from Australia, Japan, China, England, New York, and beyond.
“The sooner you come, or the earlier in the week, technically the better things you’re going to find,” says Pomerleau. “But there’s new people showing up all week. And we refresh our booth halfway through the week so it’s fresh.”
On the other hand, Sunday presents opportunities for markdowns.
“You’re way more apt to be able to haggle,” says Beaudette. “It’s everyone’s last day so they want to get rid of stuff before they head home.”
In the end, each day of the show has different attractive qualities.
“There’s so much stuff here,” says Pomerleau. “There’s an endless supply.”
The Not-So-Obvious Tips
If you’re not chatting with the dealers, you’re doing it wrong. Every antique has a story, and if you’re buying antiques without trying to learn that story, the magic of the treasure hunt can be lost.
“Definitely try to have conversations with people and see how they’ve acquired the things they’re selling,” says Beaudette. “I am thinking of this one guy who sells a lot of (handmade) jewelry…He has an intricate story about every single piece. It’s wicked cool hearing stuff like that.”
Looking for something specific? Just ask. Many dealers have been returning to the show for decades. (There’s a years-long waiting list to secure a tent!) That means they’re familiar with their neighbors and what other vendors specialize in, so if you have questions, they can point you in the right direction.
“There’s a lot of people, and it’s definitely a competition, so to speak,” says Beaudette. “But nobody’s not going to try to help you find what you’re looking for. Everyone is so nice—always ask if you’re not sure where you should be heading.”
No deals will be found in hyper-curated booths. These are the places where the goods are carefully selected and beautifully arranged. But these are not the booths where you’ll be scoring bargains.
“Those are really fun to look at—they’re definitely things I make a point to go and see,” says Beaudette. “But…you’re less apt to get a good deal at places like those.”
Brimfield Antique Show, Route 20, Brimfield, see information about dates and times at brimfieldshow.org.