An Inside Look at Navigating the Brimfield Antique Show
The Brimfield antique show is the Super Bowl of New England flea markets — as diverse in its treasures as it is in its attendees. It’s a scavenger hunt for both professional and casual DIYers, a hunting ground for HGTV hopefuls, and a curiosity for collectors from all over.
The show takes place three times a year for six day stretches, Tuesday through Sunday. It’s the largest flea market/antique fair in New England with thousands of booths and over 50,000 annual attendees. I try and attend at least twice a year, sometimes with a prepared shopping list in-hand and always with a head full of ideas.
Brimfield antique show is not for the faint of heart — I approach it like an athletic event and always:
- Get on the road early to beat the crowds and the heat.
- Dress in a uniform of running shoes, comfortable, layered clothing, hat, and ample sunscreen
- Carry cash, phone, water bottle, and some type of shopping cart
I choose my shopping partners carefully. If I’m on a mission for something very specific, I prefer to bring just one friend who can either keep pace or doesn’t mind if I sprint off and circle back periodically. This year I brought my 12-year-old son, Max. He wasn’t very enthusiastic, but was a good sport, scanning the booths for items more appropriate for “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” than my carefully curated living room.
For me, the Brimfield antique show is an opportunity to explore new ideas, check out different styles, and experiment with design. While here, you will come across a wide range of booths ranging from those that resemble traditional front lawn yard sales, to pop-up, high-end showrooms.
Prices are as varied as the merchandise. I scored a zinc table last year made out of an old Army water buffalo for $150. This year I lit up over a similar item that I thought would make a great match and was disappointed to discover the price was 4 times what I’d paid — and non-negotiable.
There’s truly something for everyone at Brimfield Antique Show
What’s so great about Brimfield is you can find literally anything here. Walk past a booth full of tchotchkes that you can’t possibly fathom uses for, then turn your head and you’ll see a shopper beaming proudly as they strike a deal over a vintage plastic baby doll head.
Returning year-after-year, attendees get to know the fields, similar to neighborhoods, and have favorite vendors that they look forward to networking with. One of my favorite vendors is Big Ship Salvage out of Spartanburg, South Carolina. I had the pleasure of running into John again this year and was excited to share the photos of the lights I bought from him last summer, now installed in their new location by my fireplace. Even more fun was picking out a new solid copper and brass fixture to go over my kitchen island.
I do a lot of sourcing for unique lights but Big Ship Salvage’s solid brass and copper lighting is unlike anything I’ve found shopping traditional retail. Each piece of authentic, solid cast metal, is salvaged from the deck of a real working vessel, then carefully wired and ready to hang. John even showed me exactly how to install the light in case I had any questions about the best way to hang it.
How to survive the Brimfield flea market
1. Arrive early. The event takes place in May, July, and September and gets crowded as the day goes on. Arrive early for the best parking spots and first glimpse of the most coveted items. I like to run back to my car throughout the day so I don’t have to carry items with me, so location is key
2. Dress appropriately. I joke about the Brimfield antique show being an athletic event, but it truly is. There is a reason people book hotels and RVs and spend several days at the show. Wear running shoes or something that allows you to stay on your feet and walk for hours comfortably. Dress in layers — it warms up as the day goes on. Wear a hat and sunscreen because there is little to no shade and you are outdoors all day. Bring an umbrella to keep in the car — just in case.
3. Bring cash. Most vendors take cards but you’ll want cash for better negotiations and in case the cell service becomes too weak for vendors to connect. This happened one year and the event almost came to a screeching halt for me. There is an ATM in the center of town, however you will pay a hefty fee and since the ATM is run off cell service, shared by thousands of people, it has potential to crash
4. Clean out your car. You never know what you may find. I like to remove the seats and bring bungees and blankets. Just in case!
5. Be prepared to negotiate. Don’t be nervous — it’s expected.
6. Bring a wingman. It’s always good to have someone who can help you make decisions, carry your stuff, and remind you exactly why you need to buy it!
7. Make friends. Vendors like to share stories — about their businesses, their wares, and themselves. Take the time to network and make some new friends. I love recognizing and reconnecting with people year after year
8. Take photos of items and jot down their locations. You may want to come back later, or if you purchase a larger item you’ll need to locate it with your car to pick it up
9. Take advantage of the delivery services. For a fee there are folks who will carry your items to your car or ship to your home.
10. Hydrate and EAT. There are an abundance of food trucks offering anything you could want to eat or drink (including beer and wine). You’ll need your stamina!
Here are some of my favorite items from the July 2018 show
SEE YOU AT THE NEXT BRIMFIELD ANTIQUE SHOW!