Published: May 23, 2023
BRIMFIELD, MASS. — In the beginning, in 1960, it was the brainchild of Gordon Reid to start an outdoor antiques flea market on both sides of Route 20 in the sleepy town of Brimfield, Mass. Fast forward nearly 65 years and what began with just 70 dealers and 200 buyers has exponentially grown to hundreds — if not thousands — of sellers and more visitors than have probably accurately been counted. Over the course of six days, May 9-14, lovers of antiques, vintage and contemporary crafts made the first pilgrimage of the year, repeating the ritual that occurs three times a year: “America’s Oldest Outdoor Antiques Flea Market.”
PALMER, MASS. — A few miles past the Main Street drag of Brimfield is Marier’s Antique Flea Market, which has been opening the flea market season for the past 43 years. This season began with a transfer of ownership from Rose and Ross Gagnon to two collaborating husband-and-wife teams, Arthur Crisafulli and Klia Ververidis, owners of Brimfield Antique Shows, LLC, Brimfield, Mass., and Jack and Kris Dunn of New England Vintage Co. The market was open May 4 to 8 with about 60 dealers. Reportedly, the busiest day of the show was Saturday, May 5, with slower traffic on Friday and Sunday, but up again on Monday. Marier’s Market will be open again at 1628 Park Street (Route 20) July 6 through July 10.
The gates to Auction Acres, formerly J&J Auction Acres, opened at 7 am on May 9. It was a “layers day,” with the chilly morning requiring some bundling up, only to be shed in the later sunlight. Traffic was strong throughout the morning, with Rusty Corriveau greeting customers at the opening gate as they rushed to the field of about 175 tents. This season also marked the 53rd year that Paul Young of Revere, Mass., has set up on the field; he even participated in online marketplaces during the pandemic. Retired from his career in a produce market, Young sells “just for the fun of it” and enjoys meeting customers and colleagues, new and old.
Dealers Choice lived up to its name on May 9, bringing about 425 booths of fine art and antiques, fashion and jewelry. Neither card-carrying dealers nor collectors ended the day disappointed. A recent development was a number of vintage sellers interspersed with the seasoned antiques dealers who unloaded tarp loads of clothing and textiles, from antique to contemporary, deadstock to nearly destroyed. Buyers were undeterred and delighted in sorting through the piles. Veterans of the field were unfazed and sellers enjoyed healthy sales on Tuesday.
Opening at 6 am on Wednesday, May 10, and continuing through Sunday, New England Motel occupies a central field on the north side of the strip. Newsworthy this year was the change in ownership, with Les, Josh and Adam Skowyra buying the field from its original and long-time owners, Marie, Bob and John Doldoorian.
“It’s been great. Set up went really well; Bob and John Doldoorian have been here helping,” Josh told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, which will feature the Skowyras in an upcoming Q&A.
Kansas native but now Austin, Texas, resident, Deann Craft, Backroads To Oz, has been at Brimfield for 10 years. She makes signs in several sizes, punching out affirmations, sayings and quotes in metal, a medium she says makes the represented thought “more permanent.”
A more relative newcomer to Brimfield was Angela of Angie’s Attic, who said this was her second show at Brimfield, having only exhibited previously in September 2022. She shares a booth with her sister Denise, who owns “Nimble Thimble” and her 4-year-old bernese mountain dog, Maggie May.
Shoppers were lined up in the booth of Fiona’s Revival, Philadelphia, which sold a set of vintage billiard balls to a very happy customer who was looking for a birthday present for her son.
Flower Field Antiques said they’d sold “a bunch of nice things, including five very good paintings, several pieces of jewelry, some Navajo jewelry and some Tiffany.”
Red sold tags bloomed in the booth of Knollwood Antiques, with nearly two dozen counted less than four hours after the show opened. Richard Lavigne said they would be doing a complete redo of the booth — arguably one of the highest end presentations at Brimfield — the following morning with new merch. Lavigne, whose shop is located at Berkshire Galleries, a consortium of dealers in Great Barrington, Mass., said he was one of a few vendors from there.
Eric Moriarty, son of field owners Don and Pam Moriarty, was manning one of the large gates that keeps the crowds at bay until 9 am on Wednesday morning. He said setup had gone well, with the field “at full capacity.”
Rolling Hills Antique Mall, Harrisonburg, Va., was enjoying close proximity to one of the field gates and watched hundreds of eager buyers stream past as the gates swung open. They’ve been showing at Brimfield for more than 30 years — “haven’t missed a spring show since 1983”— but have never had such a close proximity to the gates. Later in the day, as we made our way off the field, they said they’d had a great morning selling the silver and other small pieces they bring northward every year.
Aesthetic Movement and late Victorian furniture were seen in sizeable quantity on the field, including an Aesthetic Movement cherry wood library cabinet that was described as “a very good, museum-quality piece,” and a wicker chaise and Heywood Bros wood and rattan side table, both in another booth a little down the row, with a dealer who gave his name only as “Steve.”
Swanzey, N.H., stoneware dealer George Browning III had a good selection, though he said, “good stoneware is getting harder to find; prices just keep going up!” Despite that, he had an 8-gallon cobalt blue decorated cooler from Charlestown, Mass., priced at $6,900, a tall umbrella stand stamped “G. Benton/ L. Stewart/ Hartford” that was priced at $950 and, for $850, an A.K. Ballard 5-gallon crock from Vermont.
Set up just along the outer wall of the E-tent at the back of the Heart-O-The-Mart field, Bruce Emond, Village Braider, had sold several things by the time we came along, including a set of patio furniture, a wicker ottoman, two decoys, a pair of stone figures and a large marble birdbath.
Inside the tent, a coterie of dealers that included Kevin Kleinbart, Fritz Rohn and Angus Wilkie were busy writing up receipts.
The advantage of staggered field openings is it gives shoppers time to peruse several venues and still be present when a new gate opens. So, there was quite a crowd gathered at Brimfield Antique Shows, on the Hertans field, a few minutes before the noon bell. Field owner Klia Ververidis Crisafulli plans several events to keep shoppers coming back to the field, including a live auction on Thursday evening, and “Vendor and Shopper Appreciation Night” on Friday evening.
“It was truly amazing,” Crisafulli enthused. “Probably 30 percent of our vendors were new to the field and if was not a record breaking crowd, it certainly came close. It was a steady stream of people in through all three gates for a good 25 minutes!”
She noted that the Thursday night auction attracted “probably the biggest auction crowd we’ve ever had” and achieved in the low six figures, topped by a Gustav Stickley writing desk, #518, in its original finish that sold for $6,500; the sale also had other Stickley pieces from an estate on Massachusetts’ South Shore.
The Friday evening “Appreciation Night” event had a pirate theme and attracted about 300 people over the course of the evening, while a beer and wine garden that was on the field for the run of the show kept visitors in a buying mood.
Among the new vendors she mentioned were “Josh” and “Robbie” (no last names were given though we asked), from Rochester, N.H., whose booth was within eyesight of the main gate at the corner of Route 20 and Mill Lane Road. Holiday collectibles and antique toys were the themes of their booth, notably Halloween, Christmas and Easter.
Thursday, May 11, may have been the pick of the litter as far as outdoor antiques shopping goes — and May’s Antique Market was the beneficiary. Said Margaret Meier, vintage fabrics dealer who was set up just to the right up in front by the main gate, “You don’t have to get sweaty, nor do you have to be cold and wet. It’s just right.” True, it was a Goldilocks day: skies were cerulean blue, temps were sunny but comfortable with a fresh breeze and — most important — the field was full and a sea of eager shoppers stood shoulder to shoulder on either side of the gate on Route 20, one of the show field’s two entrances.
Since 1977, May’s Antique Market has drawn huge crowds with its unique opening mantra — Everyone is an Early Buyer — ensuring that there is no pre-shopping on the field before the market opens is strictly enforced. Indeed, blue signs proclaiming “No Merchandise Till 9 am” form a gauntlet on either side of the main thoroughfare just inside the gate, and tarps, blankets and all manner of concealment are employed to shield the merch from prying eyes.
The field enjoys a loyal base of dealers, many who have been showing here for more than 40 years. Like Kay Baker, dealer in traditional antiques and Americana, who said she has not missed a show since its inception, three times each year, at least 120 by her count. But be watchful, this spring we were surprised to see Anne Hall Antique Prints, who for about 25 years showed at Shelton’s just down the way on Route 120. She and her partner Mark Brady explained that their new shop in Providence, R.I., keeps them busy on weekends so they switched to May’s.
More than 1,000 buyers awaited the 8 am opening of the Auction Acres field on May 12, on the hallowed ground of the very first flea market in Brimfield. Conceived and operated by auctioneer Gordon Reid, the first show opened in May 1960. Reid passed it on to his daughters and, in 2017, they sold it to Kate and Rusty Corriveau. Kate grew up in a nearby town and Rusty grew up in Brimfield. They have been slowly expanding the number of exhibitors — now about 250 — and they have a winery on the premises producing eight different varieties of wine. One of the town’s landmarks has been the large red barn that Gordon Reid used for his auctions. The Corriveau family is restoring that barn and – when completed – they plan to display posters and ephemera relating to Reid, his auctions and the early years of the flea market. “We want to preserve the ‘lore’ that’s important to the property and the town.” As part of that effort, labels on the bottles of wine they produce have some of that history.
The current list of exhibitors includes at least three, Paul Young from Revere, Mass., Bill Thomas from Baltimore, Md., and Ron Rainka from Warren, Mass., who have participated for at least 50 years, as well more than 20 doing the show for the first time. Kate noted that “it’s important to us that we maintain the reputation this show has for the quality of the items on the field, so we vet new exhibitors. Dealers who haven’t done the show before have to send photographs of their merchandise or booths at other shows. A couple of years ago we added Tuesday shows. We don’t vet those exhibitors so anything could turn up. And we don’t charge admission to buyers. They’re fun shows and everyone seems to like them.”
What might you find? Several dealers had selections of garden accessories ranging from tables and seating furniture to fountains and large statuary. You would have also found American and European furniture and accessories, Native American weavings and pottery, vintage clothing, selections of early bottles, posters, one booth with nothing but sporting items, dolls, games, jewelry, Oriental rugs, Midcentury Modern, ancient glass and pottery and still more. And you would have had the opportunity to meet Carol Freeman, an author who writes mysteries, including one set in Brimfield.
What do you do when your cadre of dealers pick up and leave after the climax of a midweek show and you have all these empty spots on your field heading into the weekend? It was a vexing question that Brimfield Antique Shows chief executive officer Klia Ververidis, who always seems to be on the move, found an answer to by introducing a new show to the Brimfield Week lineup. May 14-15 was the second year for the Weekend Warrior Show, A Show for People Who Work. It ran in tandem with Hertan’s, taking place on the Hertan’s show field. The show featured about 50 new vendors, some of whom were doing the Brimfield show for the first time. They moved in on Friday night or Saturday morning for a Saturday 8 am opening, filling spots that were left vacant by departing regular show dealers.
It was a soft opening — no gate swinging open or ringing of a bell, and admission to the show was free. “People kept asking us why there wasn’t a show on the weekend for people who worked Monday through Friday. There seemed to be a strong demand, so we wanted to fill that void,” said Ververidis, explaining the rationale for the show. From a show manager’s perspective, it was a no-brainer: offer dealers a discounted rate to set up for two days over the weekend to monetize what would normally be empty spots. For potential show visitors, it offered fresh, new material — mostly antiques and vintage material but also artisan and handmade items as well.
There were a few grumbles from some dealers who had set up on Wednesday, paying full freight, who were now competing for shoppers’ attention. The vibe from the “warriors,” however, was upbeat and energetic, summed up by a Somerville, Mass., couple who exclaimed “Brimfield is the World Series of antiques shows.”
The summer and fall editions of the remaining 2023 Brimfield Antiques Flea Markets will take place July 11-16 and September 5-10. For information, www.brimfieldantiquefleamarket.com.
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