Published: May 26, 2020
Review by Greg Smith & Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy of Brimfield Live, Brimfield Online & The Brimfield Show
ONLINE – If you’re not wearing a hat and standing on the hot pavement as you share Palmer Road with a creeping line of cars and a crowd of folks from just about every walk of life, it’s hard to adequately explain the scope of Brimfield to someone who has never been there, much less replicate the feeling of it. But a band of organizers did something very special for the May edition of the Massachusetts mega antiques market that was canceled this year on account of the coronavirus outbreak: they brought people together, virtually. The food vendors and porters were not there, the weather did not matter – for once – but buyers came and sellers sold, all from their own homes on two social media platforms May 11-17. Facebook events, groups and Instagram hashtags corralled seller listings into an online format that unfolded for the better part of a week.
When news broke at the end of March that the May edition of Brimfield was canceled, it was both expected and agonizing, affecting a mass of more than 500 antiques dealers who regularly sell at the shows throughout the week. Some rely on the three Brimfield markets as a solid portion of their annual income. Some sellers have never missed a single edition in their decades-long careers.
Klia Ververidis Crisafulli had been an exhibitor at Hertan’s for the past ten years before she bought that field and market this January. This would have been her first show as manager. Instead of directing the line of vans into their spaces and dealing with the normal tasks of a show manager, she instead set up the Brimfield Live event that served as the hub and sale platform for six of the markets. “I always love to make a big entrance, but this wasn’t what I had in mind!” she said.
Her market’s Facebook page, @HertansBrimfield (edit: the handle has now been changed to @brimfieldlive), was the location of Brimfield Live as hundreds of dealers from every field on the strip took to sending in videos, both prerecorded and live streamed, offering their antiques and objects for sale. A number of other shows joined the coalition of Brimfield Live, including Heart-O-The-Mart, Brimfield Auction Acres, New England Motel, Shelton’s, Sturtevant and Central Park. Each field had a digital opening time where dealers who normally sold on that field would send in their videos to be released to buyers across the world.
Over the course of the week, Crisafulli said she released 275 videos that dealers made. They would reach 156,000 people with 90,500 post engagements.
Via livestream, we saw the participating managers open the gates to the shows at their normally scheduled times.
The video format yielded entertainment for those who were looking for something to do as they hunkered down in quarantine across the world. It provided for learning and the opportunity to listen to the many stories that dealers are apt to tell. Visually, it was an exploration into the homes and stock of antiques dealers across the country – into their barns, garages and shops that get left behind when they cart it all onto the fields.
“As soon as the show launched, people were selling things,” Crisafulli said. “Thirty minutes after we did the opening at 5:31 am on May 12, more than 1,500 people had watched the video, that was pretty incredible. People as far away as California woke up at 2 in the morning just to watch us open up outside.”
“Dealers started selling things, some people made some big sales,” she said. “There was tons of action, every video that we put up was getting 2-4,000 views.”
It was a dispersed reality show on Brimfield, with the same cast of characters telecommuting in for work. There were moments of great levity.
More than one person told Crisafulli that the online show had a way of connecting people in a way that the real show can’t.
For the first time ever, Heart-O-The-Mart owners Don and Pam Moriarty got to attend the New England Motel opening. Crisafulli ran through the gate live on Facebook so that the gate rushers could get their fix. She did the same for the opening at Brimfield Auction Acres.
“All these booths that have real people associated with them, you got to watch their video and get to know them in a sense,” Crisafulli said. “People’s personalities were really coming through. Dealers can never leave their booth, but suddenly I met all these people who set up a few booths away that I’ve never talked to before. In some ways, it has drawn us closer together as a community.”
Every night, Crisafulli and others would go live and people would tune in.
“We did the live auctions every night at 5:30,” she said. “Those were really serving as entertainment for people. Particularly the Wednesday auction, it was very comical, people were having a pretty great time. Every time we went live, people would hop on right away. There was a TV show component, we tried to recreate the actual experience.”
Other Facebook groups popped up, notably Brimfield Online, which amassed 10,000 members in short order. This group’s format centralized on album-style selling with a mix of photos and videos, which has become the norm in buy-and-sell groups on the platform. It provided for easy scrolling for collectors who know what they like. The group had 28,804 posts in the past month.
Brimfield Online was created by dealers Tom Sloan and Michael Lord, who said the event, which began May 12, served as a successful and effective sales conduit for dealers.
“Many booths rolled into the feed as we envisioned,” Sloan told us. “Within moments, some sellers immediately had upwards of 20 buyers or more asking prices or claiming an item at the marked price. People saw results as they began to engage with the community. Even those with less in sales made some great future contacts, got online selling for the first time ever, or just sat back and learned. And as antiques dealers, we were for the most part all buyers as well, supporting the industry as a community together.”
Sloan said he had sellers from Michigan, California, Ohio, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Vermont and Canada.
Like the Brimfield Live event, Sloan and Lord provided entertainment at night with live videos.
“We recruited some of the best live sellers to showcase their business and talk about the process of how the live video works from the seller’s end,” Sloan said. “We wanted to use this existing Facebook Live format to offer quality sales each night, education and entertainment. Many people enjoyed hours of nightly content after the long days of selling. We had influencers like Robbie Wolfe of American Pickers, interior designer Ken Fulk and local New England advertising collector Tom Conrad, only 19 years old, come on board and post their support to the group’s wall. All these people have an existing connection to the Brimfield community.”
Sloan said real sales occurred, ranging from under $50 to an entire bank façade that sold for more than $10,000.
“Amid this pandemic, we were really able to bring some normalcy to people’s lives even if just for one week. #feelthebrim was our tagline and it’s here to stay.”
When antiques dealer Adam Irish and antiques marketing strategist Emily Brandenburg heard of Brimfield’s cancellation, their mind immediately went searching for answers. A new antiques-focused creative agency was formed called Chance and Patina. No online alternative had been announced at that point, so they took to mapping out a way forward while applying their skillsets on their preferred social media platform, Instagram. The @TheBrimfieldShow account was born, and it would serve as a hub for five different shows – one on each day of the week – that would post to a unique hashtag. Buyers could search that hashtag on Instagram and they would get a feed of fresh content from sellers that they could then message and make a deal with. Instagram’s format is very navigable, similar to the traditional online catalog formats that appear with grid-style listings on most digital mega-marketplaces today.
The show featured more than 100 select sellers with an undetermined number of additional dealers who participated. Any dealer who wanted could post to the #TheBrimfieldShow hashtag, which accrued 7,887 posts. It was similar to how Brimfield actually works, with a number of open fields in addition to gated fields. Within each genre-specific show that opened throughout the week, one per day, a unique hashtag was created. The Vintage Clothing Show (#brimvintage), which ran Monday, March 11, featured 1,013 posts. Tuesday saw the Pickers Show (#brimpickers), with 2,201 posts; Wednesday was the E-Tent (#etentbrim), with 554 posts; Thursday saw the Americana Show (#chanceandpatina), with 698 posts; and Friday was Modern Timeless (#20mt20), with 436 posts.
Irish said that the show format succeeded in applying the pressure points, or the rush, necessary to make sales.
“There was no early buying,” Irish said, “not even I could see what was coming. And the way that Instagram works, you can see if people you follow or colleagues are following a hashtag. Within seconds of something being posted, I could see other dealers who were buying and I knew they were looking at the same thing I was looking at. There was no negotiation, it was either you buy it or you lose it. It’s a new kind of rush, I don’t think I’ve experience that outside of the New Hampshire shows. It was stressful, but in a very good way.”
Talking on the nature of the show and how it was really a first-of-its-kind on Instagram, Brandenburg said, “There were times when we weren’t sure how some things were going to work. One of my favorite things was to see dealers get really into it, they were setting up tents in their back yards and setting up the booth. It was exciting to refresh the hashtag and seeing all the things pop up for sale, and to see that energy.”
While some dealers are more familiar with Facebook, many are less so with Instagram, though younger dealers swear by it as a growing conduit for sales. Brandenburg said that she sometimes has to squeeze her existing client’s arms to develop an Instagram account, but the platform shows tangible benefits to dealers. She says dealers in the United Kingdom were early adopters of the format and now boast accounts with 20,000 followers and feeds that routinely sell.
Irish and Brandenburg hosted multiple Zoom meetings to go over the mechanics of the show and how to post things. By the end, Irish said, some dealers who had never installed the app were running freely with it and making sales.
Irish said that he could comfortably estimate that the show brought in a cumulative total of $250,000 to $300,000 in sales for its participants.
Just like the other shows, there were moments of connectedness.
One dealer reported to Irish that he got a call from a woman in New Orleans who bought something, and she told him that she really wanted to thank him for the chance to go somewhere. She was in quarantine, and she felt like she had traveled and seen something.
“It felt like you were in the moment in this place,” Irish said. “It was extraordinary how much you could capture that feeling, I think people got a sense. The people who know Brimfield got a fix. It wasn’t the same, but they got the fix of what it’s like. The people who have never been before got a chance to see how fun it could be. And for the community – Instagram created this environment where people were commenting and complimenting and giving advice and providing more information, they were sharing the excitement.”
One of the tangible benefits of doing social media shows is that dealers grow their following.
Brandenburg said one of her dealers grew their following by 1,000 people. “The average has been 500. This created quality followers that will follow these sellers for a long time, they’ll be seeing benefits from this for months and years to come.”
The July edition of Brimfield is
, at this time, uncertain. According to the most recent guidelines set forth by Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, the show’s dates fall before the scheduled reopening of large gatherings in the state. cancelled. The show will once again return to a digital format. (Updated 5/27/20).
While a digital Brimfield cannot replicate New England’s antiques mecca – there is nothing in the world that can – the initiatives were wildly successful in their mission to connect differing communities of buyers and sellers from around the world. Their reach into new audiences undoubtedly inspired more people to attend the next show. Brimfield remains in the hearts of many and we look forward to the July edition, whatever form it takes.
Outsider Art Fair Turns 31: An Inside Look
March 14, 2023
The Palm Beach Show Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary
February 28, 2023
Attracting Young Attendees, Virtual New York Antiques Show Tallies Sales Exceeding $100,000
February 14, 2023
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm