Published: March 23, 2021
By Greg Smith
BRIMFIELD, MASS. – “It’s important to understand there’s more than one way to terminate a show,” Hertan’s Antique Show owner Klia Ververidis recently wrote on social media. “They obviously can’t cancel [Brimfield] outright, because all 23 show promoters would be in court the next day, but they can over-regulate it to death and make it unpleasant so that no one wants to come here. And that is exactly what’s been happening for the past two pre-pandemic years.”
The Brimfield Antiques Shows are a national attraction, easily forming the largest collective antiques show on the East Coast and sitting among the top three by size in the nation. Brimfield pulls in an estimated 50,000 guests throughout the three editions each year.
On March 15, the Brimfield Board of Selectmen met to discuss bylaw changes that would affect the show. Among them was a $25 fine for failure to display a vendor permit and a $50 fee if enforcement officials determine that a space has been sublet to multiple vendors.
“Most of these bylaw changes, people can live with,” Ververidis said. “But what’s the big rush? Why does it have to happen right now? We should wait until the shows are back up and running, then we can talk about changing bylaws and adding fines and other regulations that have the weight of removing your promoter license for minor things.”
The fines and enforcement suggest that the selectmen believe multiple vendors sharing spaces at the show is leading to a declining revenue for the town, which has pulled in a profit over all costs each year that a budget has been tallied. Show promoters have no say in the costs the town assigns them, including any payroll increases that the selectmen can unilaterally decide is necessary.
Included in the new bylaw language is the ability for the selectmen to enforce a loss of permit to a show promoter for repeated infractions. This becomes a tricky situation, particularly in subletting where show promoters are unaware if it is occurring or not.
“A vendor pulls up to the show, they bring their buddy Frank, and he has 20 things he wants to sell in the same van. Suddenly you’re violating a bylaw and I have no way of knowing that as a show promoter,” Ververidis said. Still, her livelihood is now on the line.
Representatives for the Brimfield Advisory Committee, including show owners, were present at the March 15 meeting and argued that they did not feel the entire board had asked them to review the bylaws, which were reportedly not sent by the board, but rather a single board member. The committee then asked the selectmen to vote to bring the bylaw changes forward to the Brimfield Advisory Committee, who would then discuss them and make recommendations. Instead of voting for that, the selectmen instead voted to add them to the town warrant, without comment from the Brimfield Advisory Committee.
The selectmen said they could amend them at any time going forward and that these were a placeholder.
In an email to MassLive, selectman Ryan Olszta, a patrolman on the Brimfield Police Department, wrote, “The flea market advisory committee was asked to review [the bylaw changes] already, however, failed to do so when two field owners questioned if it was their job to or not, despite having been directed by the board to do so.”
At the heart of this, Ververidis says, is an unwelcomed overregulation of the markets and an enforcement agency that has been at odds in recent years with the small business owners who deal at the shows.
“There has been a palpable anxiety on the fields,” Ververidis said. “Prior to 2017, there sometimes would be a regular person, sometimes a selectman or citizen volunteers, seeing if everyone had vendor permits. It was cordial and friendly.”
In 2017, Verviridis said the local police began enforcing the permitting, and the interactions were suddenly more hostile.
“In some cases they were being very rude to people. All the sudden there was anxiety,” she said. “But also, general buyers were getting yelled at and harassed. I know for a fact they’ve chased away heavy-duty buyers who won’t come back because of how they were treated. People would have less of a problem with the fines if we didn’t already feel that the enforcement of the current bylaws was harsh. The addition of these fines and that police are going to be involved in patrolling permits is just giving them another tool.”
Budgets shared from 2017, 2018 and 2019 showed that after all expenses of the shows were paid, including permits, payroll, safety enforcement and emergency services, the town netted a profit anywhere from $29,000 to $45,000.
“When I hear that the town doesn’t make money off the show, that is completely false,” Ververidis said.
Still, Chairman of the Board of Selectman Mike Doyle doesn’t believe the shows prove enough of a benefit to the town.
Doyle is quoted in MassLive, “‘There are expenses, specifically on safety and protocol,’ adding that those are typically offset by the vendor permits. ‘The trouble is, there’s an increase on one side, and there’s not a dramatic increase on the other side.'”
Ververidis has started a Facebook group, titled “The Society for the Preservation of the Historic Brimfield Antique Shows.” It is now sitting at over 1,300 members. Updates on the issues are posted regularly there, along with action items that buyers and sellers can forward to local authorities.
A call on whether the May edition of Brimfield will occur will be made by the end of March.
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