10 Tips for Tackling the Brimfield Antique Spectacular
Facts and Figures
The Brimfield Antique Show in Brimfield, Mass, an hour west of Boston, is the country’s largest outdoor show of its kind. It spans some 20 acres, with tents housing an estimated 6,000 vendors, to which another 200,000 antique and flea market enthusiasts flock. It is nothing short of spectacular!
It began in 1959 and has run annually since, offering three opportunities to catch the show: May, July and September. The event always runs Tuesday to Sunday, in freezing rain or sweltering sunshine. I have been there in each and have never come away disappointed.
I don’t always leave with what I came for; I’ve sometimes left empty-handed, but, “oh the places (and treasures) I’ve seen!” This year marks my 18th year in attendance, only a blip of the fair’s total run. Yet, I’ve seen its popularity ebb and flow during these years and I’m personally thrilled to know its back on top. Tents, heretofore piled high with random collections of dilapidated and pristine furniture, tchotchkes, what-have you, are now more often streamlined. Tents are set up like actual storefronts, with proper signage, and great attention to staging and presentation.
They’re not all like that obviously and that’s what adds to the flavor of Brimfield. There are still plenty of vendors who bring whatever they have and haul it out for display in whatever haphazard order it comes off the truck. You can still find your buried treasure, if that’s what you’re after.
Flea Market Finds
The show itself has had to restrategize to stay on top. Following a few years of low attendance, the show saw a surge in more “flea market finds” – vast quantities of particular items, i.e. reproduced bread bowls, wicker baskets, galvanized buckets – smaller items with wide appeal.
In the last seven years too, there’s been a huge soar in large industrial items, ranging from reimagined furniture to jet engines. Yes, you can truly find it all, if you can find it! It is, after all, 20 acres of stuff. However, there’s of course an app for that.
I love this show and despite my history here, I always feel like a tourist in NYC. I walk with my mouth agape, gawking at both the fun and eclectic array of stuff and the fantastic and boho people buying it.
Managing the Madness
Bring a List
Bring Measurements and a Measuring Tape
Bring a Backpack or Cart
Park Near the Show
Plan Day of Attack
Bring Cash and Checkbook
Partake of the Foodie Delights
Plan for the Whole Day
- Don’t bring kids unless your aim is to torture them and yourself (no matter what they tell you, they will be miserable).
- After learning the kid lesson, I doubled down and lost. I brought my mother in a wheelchair (with a broken foot). Don’t do it. It seems obvious probably to you, that that was an idiotic idea but I thought I was doing her a solid. It’s an exhausting day. Period. Pushing a wheelchair through the muddy ruts, gravel, and uphill is simply – not worth it. Same goes for double joggers or strollers with kids who don’t want to be there.
- Speaking of mud, don’t wear your favorite white shoes. It will either be very muddy or very dry and dusty and either way – your spiffy kicks will get sullied. Comfortable is the way to go.
- Don’t Miss It. For every don’t, there are a hundred reasons making it worthwhile.
Consider beforehand what you might be looking for, if anything. If you’ve not been, it may be difficult to imagine the possibilities. I consult my running DIY list to determine if there are any future projects that require a certain something to complete. If it’s a furniture piece you’re after for a corner in your mudroom or an old shutter to spruce up your front porch, give some thought to pieces you might like to discover.
If you’re on the quest to fill a space, know those measurements. There’s no sending back the pine armoire that doesn’t fit the space. Bring a tape measure. Sometimes, vendors have them available but don’t count on it.
You know yourself. If you envision buying the place out, and many do just that, bring something to transport it easily. Your car is likely a good hike away. City slickers bring their rolling shopping carts, some bring rolling suitcases, even strollers packed high with prizes. I would find those cumbersome; I prefer a large backpack I can store my smaller finds in. Anything larger or too heavy, I come back for. Vendors will almost always hold something aside for you.
The show is divided into roughly twenty different markets, taking place in various fields, all strung together. Most markets open at 7am. There is far too much to see in one day; I could spend days there and not get enough. The early shopper beats the crowd, the traffic on the main entrance road, and the heat (it can get supremely hot in the field and on the pavement), and, of course, gets the best pick of loot.
This seems obvious, but as you come down Rt 20 from either direction toward the show, you will see enterprising homeowners charging $5 to park. There is plenty of parking at the foot of the show; do not park further out and walk in. You will regret it at the end of a long walking day. Coming from 20 East, you’ll see the small downtown area comprised of a bank, a pizza shop, and the common. Plenty of homeowners will invite you to park in their fields for a fee of $5-$10 for the day. Rarely, have I seen it cost more. If you’re hoping to circumvent traffic at show-close, its not very likely but you have a better chance on the west end of Rt 20, where you can also head out and pick up the Mass Pike. There is less parking on the west end of the show but still ample (most come from the east). I avoid traveling on Rt 20 through the show (markets on either side of street) at all costs as it is extremely slow-moving. I vote for parking on the east side, from which I enter off the pike.
Some vendors label prices, some do not. Either way, there is always a happy spot for buyer and seller. Where the vendor has done the work on an item him/herself, consider that in making your offer. If on the other hand, the vendor is merely housing something that came as is, there is less emotional attachment and hours put in. That means, potentially more wiggle room. Watch an episode of Flea Market Flip with Lara Spencer before you go. That might put you in the bidding mood.
If you’re on the search for something very rare or pristine, you might want to go earlier in the week when options abound. However, if it’s the bargain you’re after, Saturday and Sunday are your best bets. I have been there on Sunday at close, and vendors often cannot be bothered to load the stuff back in their trucks. They just want you to make an offer and take it off their hands.
Though some vendors can now accept credit cards, many don’t want the hassle and cash (or check) still reigns supreme. There are a few ATMs available on site but its just a bit of a headache to have to track them down. Also, your foodie delights require cash.
There is an outdoor food court accessible right off the main road with many tasty options. Unfortunately, there are never enough tables or cover (from the scorching sun). Avoid lunch hour if you can and either go earlier or eat late. But don’t skip it; you need the sustenance! Plus, its delicious. That aside, the only other food options are restaurants back in town, which would seem a long way to go, in my opinion.
Beside the fact that the show itself is enormous, this kind of sifting and sorting takes an inordinate amount of time, especially if you travel with a companion. You may be scouting antique steamer trunks, but your bestie is busy trying on every vintage sailor jacket in her path. If you come in around 9am and depart around 5pm, you’ll not be alone; rather you’ll be with 1000 other people traveling out on the same road. No matter my timing, I plan for traffic. Also, if you buy any large items – a dresser or a jet engine – you are allowed to drive your car to the tent (most tents can be accessed) toward the end of day for loading. You’ll have to ask. That, of course, takes additional time too.
And What I’ve Learned the Hard Way
Would love to hear what wonderful finds you uncover. Happy hunting.