Published: July 27, 2021
Photos and Review by Greg Smith, Will Demers & Madelia Hickman Ring
BRIMFIELD, MASS. – On some days a blazing inferno, on others a diluvial flood – that was the July 2021 reboot of the Brimfield Antiques Shows as the business got back into the swing of things following a 22-month hiatus. We dare call it hedonism as this antiquesfest divulged the pent-up desire of many folks who longed to touch the material and find something they never knew they needed. Things were same old – the wagons, the buyers and sellers, the smells, the friends, the weather – while some things were different: there was a brand new fashion show and a virtual show on Ruby Lane that carried over from the pandemic-era. One thing is for certain, it was good. Buying was good, selling was good and life up in Brimfield, Mass., for all intents and purposes, was right again.
It was only last year when Rhode Island Americana dealer Adam Irish launched his first antiques show. As the Brimfield markets closed on account of the pandemic, Irish and a co-organizer stood up a promotional company called Chance & Patina, which went on to produce a series of digital shows on Instagram.
Just five weeks before July 11 this year, Irish did the gambit once more as he shotgun-organized a vintage clothing and antique textiles show with 35 dealers at the Southbridge Hotel & Conference Center. Visitors responded warmly as the opening line extended outside and around the sidewalk of the hotel.
When we spoke to Irish before the show opened, he spoke about the online shows and Covid burnout.
“The online shows were great for the time being, but actually handling stuff – there’s no substitute,” Irish said. “I really hope that all of our efforts last year will translate to boots on the ground, that’s where my heart is. We’re banking on a renaissance of in-person shows.”
Buyers who normally fly in for Brimfield, to buy or sell, were in attendance from as far away as Los Angeles.
In many ways, the in-person show was an extension of the online shows of yesteryear. Many of the fashion dealers that took part in Irish’s Instagram events were present, some doing their first ever in-person show.
“There’s a synergy between them,” Irish said, “I’ve met so many of these dealers online. It’s exciting because many of these sellers have thriving online businesses, but no brick-and-mortar footprint. The show lures them in, creates a footprint.”
On exhibit was women and men’s vintage clothing, fabrics and early textiles from the Fifteenth Century through 1990. It was a show that flourished like a garden, at times loud and airy and, in just the booth next door, dense and monotone. Whether buyers were interested in vintage denim or antique lace, Pucci silk or opera costumes, the show had it.
About 600 to 700 visitors walked through the gate, according to Irish. “It was an experiment, but I think everyone did really well. I asked them all and I didn’t have any disgruntled dealers.”
The show will again kick off Brimfield on Sunday, September 5. Linda Zukas’ Sturbridge Vintage Fashion and Antique Textile Show & Sale will follow on September 6. Irish hopes the proximity of the fashion shows will draw in more buyers of the material.
For additional information, www.threadbareshow.com.
New England Motel
New England Motel opened at 6 am on Wednesday, July 14, to gray and slightly drizzly weather that did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of shoppers who showed up early. By 11 am, the mist had cleared, and it was hot and humid. Field co-owner and manager John Doldoorian said he thought it might have been the biggest and best July in 15 years, and that a number of dealers had told him the same thing. “We had 50 more dealers than we have in a normal July, and we’re already more than 90 percent full for September.”
Yrena Edwards, Art from the Attic, specializes in Fiestaware and Bakelite jewelry and has been doing Brimfield for “a long time,” four or five years at New England Motel. She was thrilled to be back in her “forever booth” next to the vendor of English pastries, which was enjoying brisk business by midmorning. Edwards said she made money selling online during Covid, notably to people who were sheltering at home who wanted to make their own jewelry.
Several vendors liked the ease that the virtual Brimfield shows offered; Philippa Katz of Boston, who sells antique prints and maps, said the virtual editions took “much less effort.” She has been doing Brimfield for ten years, but typically sits the July show out. Traffic in her booth of original and giclee prints was slow but steady.
Teresa and Francis Malinowski of T&F Trunks, West Gardiner, Maine, have been restoring antique Victorian and vintage trunks since 1990 and selling at Brimfield for seven or eight years. Francis said each trunk takes about a week to sand, strip and refinish. The couple said business was picking up after Covid brought things to a halt.
Lisa Sloan, St Stephens Antiques & Collectibles, was taking her first vacation in about 18 months by doing Brimfield, which she and partner Keith Civin have done for five years. They did not participate in the online versions last year and were just delighted to be back in the field.
Canadian dealers End of the Thread Antique Emporium have figured out how to get rid of vintage porcelain plates that may be considered old fashioned: they have irreverent sayings laminated on the front in gold leaf. Owner Steve White said that while they were “not for everyone, they’re flying off the shelf.”
The gates at Heart-O-The-Mart swung open promptly at 9 am on Wednesday, July 14, to a rush of eager shoppers.
“It was dynamite,” Don Moriarty, owner and operator of Heart-O-The-Mart said. “Crowds were larger than normal for July and buying was very, very robust. The number of exhibitors we had on our field was up 25 percent; I think it’s because of the pandemic. People really just wanted to come back. We also noticed a lot of new buyers, people who were asking questions and said they had never been to Brimfield before. Even though the rain was problematic in some ways, in my opinion, it did not impact the number of vendors, buyers or sales.”
Shindig Alley specializes in Midcentury Modern furnishings and dÃ©cor and vintage clothing, accessories and jewelry and has had a brick-and-mortar store in Philipsburg, Penn., for about five years. Kevin Murphy said “amazing customers” kept them going through the pandemic and they were pleased to be at Brimfield making sales.
The “E” tent at Heart-O-The-Mart was busy, with a few dealers who had booths on the Hertan’s field doing some last-minute buying before that show opened. Prices in that tent were – for the most part – higher than those throughout the rest of the field.
Jeffrey Henkel of Pennington, N.J., has been doing Brimfield for 29 years. While he said he did “very well” during Covid, he was “thrilled to be back.” He had several pieces of furniture on offer in the “E” tent, as well as a few smalls.
Heavy mist made Brimfield a pleasant experience for shoppers but the “open to the elements” aspect leaves vendors at the mercy of the weather. Along the back of the Heart-O-The-Mart field, Andrea Timmons of Timmons Gallery was casting a watchful eye at the weather, ready to spring into action to protect the vintage posters and early natural history prints they had brought up from Woodbine, Ga. She said business had all but shut down during Covid but that it was picking up now that things were reopening.
A little further down the edge of the pond from Timmons, Eva Mitchell of 1700s’ Antique Village, Barto, Penn., had – in this writer’s opinion – one of the most picturesque spots in the field and ideal for her selection of garden and architectural antiques. Mitchell said she hadn’t done Brimfield in about 20 years but was back because the spot was available. She noted brisk sales among dealers that followed on the heels of a very busy spring season.
After the virtual Brimfield editions, there were some new vendors to the show who had never done the live Brimfield before. One of these was Main Street Modern’s Adam Hoover, who said he is noticing early signs that vintage pieces from the 1980s are growing in popularity and may soon overshadow those from the 50s, 60s and 70s.
“We waited so long for this, and we planned some very special events for this show. We want everyone to remember this show as the most fun one ever,” Klia Ververidis, the field’s co-owner said prior to the show. She had purchased the field with her husband Arthur Crissafuli just before the pandemic closed everything and was motived to create a different experience rather than just row after row of booths.
Ververidis had instituted several changes, most notably closing the gate to discourage early buying. However, well before the field was scheduled to open at noon Wednesday, the crowds that gathered had begun to block traffic, so she made the executive decision to open the field about 15 minutes early. She reported about 160 vendors filled about 200 spaces; some of them left at the end of Friday or early Saturday with a few die-hard exhibitors brazening out the rain that left several fields partially flooded.
“The attendance was outstanding. It was probably one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever had. I spoke to a lot of vendors; some of them told me they had their best show ever and some of the neighboring field owners said they’d never seen a larger crowd for opening,” Ververidis told Antiques and The Arts Weekly the day after the show closed. She said about 4,000 wristbands to the field were sold before 2 pm on Wednesday, at which point they stopped selling wristbands entirely. She said about 8,000 people came in the first day alone, with more than 20,000 coming through Sunday.
During the pandemic, Ververidis had partnered with Ruby Lane, the online vintage marketplace, which had allowed several vendors to sell online in a special short-term online show. Ruby Lane – now a sponsor of Hertan’s – continued to do this, creating a hybrid in-person/online show; Ververidis said she plans to continue this for future shows. After the event, Ruby Lane reported that 94 vendors had participated in the online version, with more than 36,000 visitors.
In addition to dealer booths, Ververidis’ auction company – Brimfield Auctions, formerly Crown Auctions – conducted a live sale from the field on Thursday evening and invited Antiques Roadshow appraiser and dealer Leigh Keno to host an appraisal event to raise money for Brimfield’s Hitchcock Free Academy.
“That was an incredible event. We had space for 80 people to attend and we sold out,” Ververidis said. She plans to do it again in September.
“(We weren’t) sure what to expect with Hertans being gated but it worked,” Newcastle, Maine, dealers Tom Jewett and Butch Berdan commented, noting that they have not missed a Brimfield in more than 20 years. “(It) created a buzz and excitement when it opened like the old days, so we loved that. Klia and her crew couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating; we really look forward to setting up with her as the new owner for years to come.”
May’s Antique Market
Martha May was excited to be back in business. It was the promoter’s first show since September of 2019 and her field at May’s Antique Market, that regular Thursday hotspot, was alive with vigor.
Not too much vigor before 9 am, though. As we were speaking to May before the show opened, one of the attendants pointed out to her a dealer that took something out of their van and left it uncovered. We assume reprimands followed.
That unpicked merch makes its way into the public’s hands is vitally important for this event and those quick-to-act buyers rewarded the field with their presence. On both sides of the field, the line was thick as it stretched down the fence line somewhere between 50 and 100 yards.
Broadcast from Brimfield to Times Square in New York City and all throughout the country, Good Morning America’s Lara Spencer was on hand at the opening of the show. The film crew’s drone could be heard buzzing overhead, picking up aerial footage.
On account of the rain, and also to give the field a tighter layout, May moved dealers off of the left property line that borders Quaker Acres. Moving them into the middle of the field gave it a sense of density and avoided an area known for puddles.
The opening day ticket price increased from $5 to $8 this year. It hadn’t changed in over 43 years, May said. Tickets were sold at the fence prior to the gate, which helped ease the bottleneck gathering at the mouth of the show.
The silicone dealer bracelets are no more, so hold on to yours if you still have them. May printed up special pinback buttons for the event, one for dealers and another for general attendees. She said a new version will be made for each edition, seemingly birthing a collectible.
When the gates cracked at 9 am, a flood of buyers entered the field for the first time in 22 months. They were sharp and fast, many of the dealers reporting good sales and eager interest. Even though rain followed before and after, that Thursday show saw some of the best weather of the week: clear skies and temperatures in the 80s.
Brimfield Auction Acres
By 7:30 am on Friday, July 19, there were only about 50 or so shoppers at each of the three gates leading onto the field at Brimfield Auction Acres. Just 20 minutes later, throngs had magically materialized at all three locations, and Rusty and Kate Corriveau, the field’s owners, were smiling broadly, knowing that July was going to be a very good show indeed.
Not that they hadn’t already had a good start for the Brimfield antiques season. While many of the 20-some fields decided to forego the May edition, the year’s first of three scheduled week-long shows, the Corriveaus had soldiered ahead, knowing that by dint of their winery business and an expansive 22-acre field perfect for social distancing, they would be able to abide by Massachusetts State Department of Health restrictions and present a safe event.
For July’s show, though, masks seemed to be few and far between, most shoppers and dealers comfortable with new federal CDC guidelines that had fully vaccinated folks doffing the protective gear. The trick, of course, is how do you tell the jabbed from the unjabbed?
Standing near the show’s Route 20 entrance, Kate Corriveau was the most ebullient, interviewed by the Worcester Telegram and Good Morning America. Asked if there was anyone on the field who should not be missed, Corriveau did not miss a beat, saying, “Paul Young, right up front and to the right. He’s marking his 52nd year here!”
Sure enough, when asked, the 82-year-old dealer from Revere, Mass., who remembers going to auctions here and the founding days of Gordon Reid’s “flea markets” in the early 1960s, talked about sustainability as eloquently as Lara Spencer. Picking up a rusty but compellingly shaped antique wine-maker’s sieve from among his display, Young said, “you know, this would make a great lighting fixture. I don’t believe in throwing things out just because they’re old, especially if you can find a new use for them. Everything that’s made well should be reused, and I believe young kids should be able to see and hold these items.”
“The dealers were really happy,” said Kate Corriveau after the show. “Most of them said they had the strongest July show in many years. The crowds were good. There were probably more than we had at the May show, but it’s hard to quantify since we did not take admission in May due to Covid. We had great weather on Friday. Saturday it was raining later in the day, so it kind of wrapped it up early. Despite the rain, the elevation of the show is high, and we have really great drainage, so the field was comfortable for both shoppers and exhibitors.”
What’s coming up in September? “We have the Treasure Trunk Tuesday, which is the popup show that’s been growing in popularity,” said Corriveau. “It’s a one-day show, dealers come in starting at 4:30 in the morning and we open without admission at 7 am. It’s different than our premier show in that we don’t vet our dealers, who offer more eclectic merchandise. There’s already a strong list for September for Treasure Trunk, and for the Friday and Saturday show we have an influx of new inquiries and I believe that’s due to the word of mouth about the successful show we just had.”
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