Published: September 18, 2001
By Steve Sundlof
BRIMFIELD, MASS. – Brimfield, Hampden County, a town 23 miles east of Springfield and 66 miles southwest of Boston; 35.22 square miles in total; home to 3,000; zip code 01010; average July temperature, 70.3 º F. Community profile aside, Brimfield transverses its quantitative constraints three times a year as a swell of 30,000 descend within a narrow band along Route 20. 4,500 dealers come to the largest outdoor market in the United States in May, July and September attracting a horde of shoppers from the farthest reaches.
A compilation by Wayne Hodges, President of brimfieldshow.com, shows that 48% of those attending Brimfield travel 51-250 miles, 18% 251-1,000 miles; 26% spend $101-250, 24% spend $251-500; 58% pay cash, 7% use personal checks; and 31% declare J & J Auction Acres as their favorite field, 13% Heart-O-The-Mart, 12% Mays, and 10% prefer New England Motel.
Brimfield, a suspense novel by Michael Fortuna, tries to delve into the magic of the event, but this celebration of free trade needs to be experienced. No book or collection of words can convey the mass influx at May’s Thursday 9 am opening or the 6 am adrenaline rush at J & J’s field on Friday.
Christie Wilson-Krusz declared, “September Brimfield was wonderful! The opening day gate for Heart-O-The Mart seemed at up to their usual standards and possibly higher then usual. While the crowd from Thursday through Sunday seemed a bit sparse at times, sales added up and it turned out to be my 2nd best September Brimfield and my 3rd best Brimfield in 16 years.”
“No matter how long you’ve been doing this, there’s just no consistent logic to the pattern of this business. A lot of dealers have said that e-bay is killing the business and I know of several dealers who no longer set up at shows and instead only sell online. It is true that a collector can go on eBay, type in their particular request, and obtain it with a winning bid. However, there is something to be said for the pleasures of ‘the hunt’.”
“Brimfield is a particularly great place for the hunt as there is such a variety of merchandise; I do wish, however, that they would not allow new merchandise. In talking to other dealers throughout the week, it seems like sales for the high-end rdf_Descriptions may have been down a bit. My focus on vintage chrome electrical appliances (i.e.. toasters, waffle irons, coffee percolators, etc.) brings in people looking for something practical, useable, nostalgic and beautiful.”
“Having been at Heart-O-The Mart for more than 15 years now, I have many loyal customers who know where to find me and know that I guarantee what I sell. One customer at the September show came specifically to buy a waffle iron from me, telling me that they had waited a whole year so that they could come to my booth at Brimfield to buy their waffle iron.”
“The other benefit of setting up on the same field for fifteen years are the relationships and friendships that are built over time. September is always a little nostalgic in knowing that we won’t see each other for another eight months. Over the years I have come to appreciate not only the loyal customers and fellow dealers, but also the management of ‘Heart-O-The Mart’. The field is always kept clean and well groomed and they even use a water truck to lessen the dust and on Sundays they offer free parking to help boost dealer sales.”
Harvey Webber of H.G. Webber Antiques, Hampton, N.H., felt “Attendance seemed way off. Promoters typically say best attendance ever- I often wonder if that is so? Items sold were some nice Victorian furniture sold to other dealers. Retail buying seemed way off as customers seem to be casual buyers this time. The weather was outstanding and maybe near to Labor Day and such nice weather retailers did other activities”
“Reflecting on thoughts of management and ease of pack-out, Webber replied, “The easiest field to do in Brimfield is Hopfe/James Brimfield Acres North, they are unbelievable attentive to making dealers shows comfortable as dealers can drive in hours before the show opens and park. Other promotions seems to be more unfriendly to dealers having them line up at 7 pm and are lucky to get to sleep before 1 am for a 4 am wake-up. It’s a pity they couldn’t somehow follow in the Hopfe/James footsteps.”
“The trend of sales is considerably softer this year but all shows seem to have this characteristic- the Miami Antiques show, Atlantic City show, and the National Clock Convention. We’ve been experiencing some weird market trends- are auctions booming and shop business waning?”
“The show has been good enough not to give up, but excrdf_Descriptionent is not what is used to be. I still look forward to seeing lots of interesting stuff that I might be able to buy. Overall the quality of merchandise along with the great number of reproductions offered at Brimfield isn’t what I remember from my youth, having been involved in the show since I was 14 and now am 38 years old.”
“The police were quite difficult to deal with as I saw a fellow get a parking ticket while he was parked off the road on Route 20 and he was actively loading a 300-pound wood/cook stove in his trailer from a booth adjacent to the road. I was shocked. When the road is fixed by the state and the sidewalks installed Brimfield will be even more difficult to negotiate “
“Is Brimfield long for the show circuit? I wonder and get the impression promoters need to be service oriented to keep dealers coming back. The Brimfield attraction is waning and is evidenced by some fields being not full for the last number of rows; if you don’t care about your dealers, they aren’t going to take care of you.”
Ralph E. Troiano of Whatevers Antique, Londonderry, N.H. stated, “We have been doing Brimfield for many years and used to do all three shows at May’s field but this year changed to J&J’s field. We felt we could no longer do that type of opening anymore. We spent the previous year letting our customers know and that way they could follow us which they did. “
“This spring and fall, furniture was not even being seriously looked at, and therefore did not sell well (we only sold in July and then sold as well as at our shows in New York). This is our first show in years no one paid by credit card. People seemed to bring a certain amount of cash and that is what they spent. We also took fewer checks.”
“We seem to see a trend back to country and early antiques. Many people are complaining about the rdf_Descriptions they have purchased on the Internet and will either no longer purchase there or only purchase from those sellers they know. They are also well aware of shipping costs and looking to purchase the heavier rdf_Descriptions in person.”
“I also heard many complaints about overpriced goods (book prices and above even on damaged merchandise and wonder if a good college program on supply, demand, marketing, etc. would not help some) I feel the day of specializing is going the way of the dinosaurs. Variety works because when one rdf_Description in the market falls another is rising and the secret is to talk to people about what they are looking for.”
“I do not see many newer young dealers around as this is a business which many work only when they have another income as survival dictates long, long, long hours and hard, hard work. You have to love this business, the weather, the people, the no sleep, the sometimes primitive living conditions, the long, long food lines.”
Ron Bethoney and Debra Perry from Brass Man, Brockton, Mass. expressed, “Brimfield was great as usual; we sold a lot of stuff and made money. Gate attendance was fair, not as many furniture buyers as usual. We always try to bring something unusual. This time we had a mechanical gorilla and it sold for $300. We sold a ton of glass rdf_Descriptions Roseville, Depression, Milk, and Franciscan ware.”
“Thoughts on management? I wish we could just empty our truck on Monday morning. We bring thousand of rdf_Descriptions and it takes us all day Tuesday, from 6 am to midnight to set up our 40-foot tent with the contents from two trucks loaded from stem to stern. It took a total of eight people all day Tuesday to get ready for Wednesday’s opening.”
“Overall sales were great! We bring something for everyone, from $2 to $1,000 rdf_Descriptions. Copper boilers, beds, books, hardware, glass, prints, linen, rugs, furniture, Hummels, sterling flatware. You name it, we bring it. We even sold a copper bathtub this show. September is a good selling month. We look forward to the fall show to keep us warm all winter.”
“Brimfield reached its peak two years ago. I have been going to Brimfield since the late 60s early 70s when Gordon Reid was alive and that was the only field at the time. I remember when we first set up there Mr. Reid came over with a load of plywood to lay down over the puddles of water that were so deep at the rear of the field, so customers could buy from us. Brimfield is changing but will never end for me. I see Brimfield tapering off, but, us true diehard dealers will always be in Brimfield. Brimfield is fun and others should remember this.”
Larry Miller of Marie Miller Antique Quilts, Dorset, Vt. reflected on the week’s sales and stated, “We have done Brimfield for over 20 years, 15 in the same location at the New England Motel. We have watched sales steadily decline in all categories at Brimfield. We have also seen the crowds of antique dealers and collectors considerably be reduced. This year was our worst, with September being downright terrible. We attribute this in part to the lack of quality rdf_Descriptions. It seems that there are more and more reproductions and new rdf_Descriptions every show. The crowds are increasingly seeking flea market rdf_Descriptions, not antiques. P.S. We live for Brimfield.”
Cathy & George Dunham, Antiques & Uniques, Woodstock, Conn., remarked, “The gate seemed about usual for most days. The show started a little slow and met expectations by mid afternoon on Tuesday and Saturday seemed mobbed but the buying did not match the attendance for us. All in all the September show went well and produced a worthy profit.”
“The market for smalls appeared more brisk than large furniture despite the great weather. There seemed to be a more aggressive law enforcement involvement regarding setup violations and confiscated rdf_Descriptions than we have observed in the past. Early primitives seem to be losing market share to more recent pieces with a more refined look. The trade in “eBay” marketable goods was brisk, as has been the trend over several shows. We also found several customers using the Brimfield Pocket Guide to find specific vendors and goods.”
Diana Bullock, Quaker Acres Field, Brimfield, Mass. reports, “Brimfield is an exciting place to be three times a year. Nowhere else on this globe can one find so many people with a united thought- to find that rare rdf_Description cheap! Bargains can still be found at Brimfield and everyone works hard to find them. One of the most amazing Brimfield sights is the huge pulsating body of humanity invariably seen moving from field to field. There is electricity in the air. It spurs on those who get caught in the frenzy. All this takes place before even the first light of day as the first field; Quaker Acres opened on Tuesday, September 4 at 5 am. Opening times for other fields were staggered throughout the week but the enthusiasm for finding a good deal never waned.”
“The size of the crowd varied for the three shows in May, July, and September. May 2001 was extremely well attended but a smaller crowd was seen in July, as is typical. The September show seemed to be a bit off in the actual number of shoppers but sales were quite brisk and most dealers I spoke to appeared to be very happy with the “bottom line’.”
“Brimfield exhibits a unique personality. The faces of veteran shoppers over the past two or three decades have varied little over the years. I would know something vital was missing if I didn’t see the fellow with the hat-sign that advertises that he buys music boxes, or Joel moving faster than lightning asking for cast iron cookware at each tent.”
“The guys who look for poker chips and fireworks memorabilia move quickly through the crowd. The competition among the dinnerware and pottery dealers is acute and they race to the farthest corners to grab the best deal. Men on bicycles weave through the crowd alert to finding clocks, paintings, musical instruments and other ungainly objects they balance on the handlebars.”
“Trends change from year to year. Astute dealers and shoppers pay careful attention to decorating trends and the dictates set by Martha Stewart. If Ms. Stewart said decorating with frozen pea-pods was in vogue, the world would comply and the newest fad would involve decorating with frozen pea pods. Perhaps that sounds extreme but believe me, the Stewart disciples are seen en mass at Brimfield. This past July her magazine featured an article on fancy hand towels from the 1940s. Almost instantly, these little towels appeared and every booth seemed to be festooned with them. By the end of the show, none could be found on the field, all having been gobbled up by eager shoppers.
“There was an appalling incident on the New England Motel field. It involved a well-mannered soft-spoken gentleman who is currently collecting and processing a survey he created which he intends to present to the Brimfield town fathers. He was respectful and genuinely enthusiastic about his project. Later in the week he left Brimfield in an ambulance. He had been on the New England Motel field talking to dealers. At the vehement behest of the owner of that field he was physically removed from the field, accosted and then pepper-sprayed by the police. We have received no word on how badly he was injured but the brute force used was very disturbing. It is horrifying to think that Brimfield could turn into a police state.”
Liz Kramar of Kramar’s Kollectible Korner, Elkton, Md., felt, “The gate and attendance were down. I noticed that the cars from the northeast region were more in dominance than ever before. Saw. This is not the usual array of vehicles. Key rdf_Descriptions sold were smalls – china & glass, Johnson Brothers retains its popularity, Fiesta may be making a slight come back – but other than that, buyers were all over the board. Seems they want “decorator” pieces and aren’t so concerned about manufacturer, as they are the look. Trends were lots of lower end sales – $20-25 range. Our sales compared quite well with a year ago, but many dealers were not happy.”
“We are at Quaker Acres – management is great and very dealer friendly. We’ve been there two years and left another field after 13 years because management was not dealer friendly. September as a selling month is about the same as July. We are actually pretty steady – we don’t notice a huge difference from May, and sometimes the July show has been the best. It all depends on having what the buyers looking for and whether you have it. I think this entire year has been seriously affected by the declining stock market.”
“As for the repercussions to the antique business from the tragedy in New York and Washington, is anybody’s guess. Historically, war (which none of us want) does spike up the economy. I think troubled times also give more of a need for nostalgia and the “things” we enjoyed when life was less chaotic. On the other hand, conflict certainly gives one a sense of uncertainty. Can I afford another nice piece of china, or will I need the money for the gas tank or the grocery store? We may be in for more of a rocky road than we’ve seen yet.”
“The greatest attraction of Brimfield for us is, of course, the people. So many stories to hear, so many good conversations, so much to learn from others. These things will keep Brimfield thriving and keep drawing both dealers and buyers right back to Massachusetts first chance we get!”
Kathleen Knapp of The Antique Poole, Dansville, N.Y., believed, ” Attendance was lower than any other September show I have been set up at. No big city buyers seemed to show up. Selling were smalls: pottery, advertising, aluminum, jewelry, prints, and quilts. Management at Central Park is Great, No problems in or out and the place has showers and port-a-john that are very clean done three times a day.”
“Overall sales ended up being normal for a September even if it seemed very slow, few and far between. September has always been a good show for me. Any month can be a good month. You just have to have the right rdf_Description at the right place at the right time for the right buyer. It is luck and a gamble each time. I was doing 28 shows a year and have cut back to six and three of them are up at Brimfield.”
Mick and Marian Ough of Ough Antiques & Collectibles, Clinton, Ind. added, “, September Brimfield seemed more laid back than usual. Sales were still good; there just wasn’t the frenzy there used to be. We were in North Field Tuesday afternoon and were rained on. Fortunately that was the only day it rained.
We set up in Heart-O-The-Mart on Wednesday and attendance seemed down but sales were OK. The weather was certainly nice. Friday we set up at J&J which is a good field for us. The promoters are dealer friendly and provide a nice field (and the outhouses are kept clean!) There are a lot of quality dealers there – not alot of junk that you find on some of the other fields. Antique advertising and vintage marbles are good sellers for us at J & J. We put different things out at different fields because you don’t have the same set up. So if someone sees us on Thursday they won’t just be seeing the things we had on Wednesday. We have fresh merchandise for each field.”
David Graci of Bottles & Beers, South Hadley, Mass., declared, “I enjoy Brimfield in May & September and complain as many do about July, but have noticed that the antique market & Brimfield seem to be changing rapidly. This past show had fantastic weather but the buyer’s appeared to go elsewhere, and all that was left was the Sunday crowd, all week long. As I specialize in a narrow range of advertising rdf_Descriptions and my results may not be the norm, but this show was the slowest seen in several years. Buying was light but I did find some good rdf_Descriptions for resale. All other aspects were the same and satisfactory. I still have all those questions concerning the future of the antique market.”
Bob and Mary Atwood, The Hoosierman, Coventry, Conn. reflected, “The crowds were good and the weather was perfect. Our strategy was to bring high quality furniture and it worked as our best pieces sold. Brimfield has become more localized and more of a retail market. There has been a marked decrease in wholesale buyers from other parts of the country and abroad.”
“Another trend is too many dealers pulling out early. This hurts the reputation and integrity of the show for everyone. May’s field is the only field where you can’t set up before the gate opens. I feel this is a disservice to customer and dealer alike. But aside from that it is the best field at Brimfield.”
“Sales were down significantly on small rdf_Descriptions. September has always been our favorite show and we like the date just the way it is. Lastly, a young man was arrested for conducting a marketing survey and pepper sprayed. We had participated in his survey and talked to him for some time and don’t feel his survey gave any personal information on anyone but was more in looking for ways to improve the show in response to changing market trends. We feel this treatment (being pepper-sprayed) makes the show and a basically good police force look bad and was totally uncalled for.”
Rich Chapman of Only Yesterday, Ocean City, N.J. stated, “We thought attendance was just a shade light, but we had our highest grossing Brimfield show ever and sold almost all of the highest-ticket rdf_Descriptions we had with us, including five Maxfield Parrish prints, which we seldom get.”
“What we like about Brimfield is that it draws a real cross-section of buyers, so we sell from all categories. New England Motel is the perfect field for us– everything is easy and convenient and problems are addressed promptly. Highest gross does not equal highest net – the high ticket rdf_Descriptions are the ones, percentage-wise, on which we net the least – but still an excellent show “
“We find Brimfield gets a steady, reliable buying crowd and see no difference between September and May, the only other show we do there. In general terms, Brimfield reflects our experience with all shows; they are getting lighter – in terms of sellers and buyers. We do many major shows in the Northeast and all seem to be less than they were five years ago. It may just be that the enthusiasm for the merchandise has dimmed some. I’m sure eBay has skimmed off merchandise, sellers and buyers. Certainly not a crisis but a noticeable softening.”
Brimfield is more than a word- it is a community, a feeling, and a way of life that beckons buyers. The next stop for an antique on its transient journey through many hands. Income for many, a long winter for others. Brimfield is experiencing a realigning of the market as the supply of antiques diminishes and the number of sellers increases. Ebay certainly has removed many of the smalls from the show, however dealers indicated they too use the electronic venue to supplement sales. You can’t condemn something that you also embrace.
True antiques dealers will never give up the ship too easily: Brimfield has infused itself in the marrow of the antique world and has become a tradition. Traditions are hard to alter but sometimes they do need to change. A collective voice repeatedly raised concerns regarding the caliber of “antiques” found in the 22 fields. Brimfield doesn’t necessarily need to be confused with a New York Decorator show, nor should it succumb to the mentality of “filling the fields is good enough.”
Brimfield should continue and will continue. Dealers will decide if they have the correct balance of rdf_Descriptions for a buying crowd that is becoming more experienced, better educated and more selective in the rdf_Descriptions they purchase. Promoters need to ensure the price of admission is worth the party. Many are happy to come to Brimfield and hunt for a specific rdf_Description, buy it and head home. Others need to purchase a multitude of goods, resale them and try to pay the bills. Perspective- a word that perhaps asks the foremost question of Brimfield’s future. Through whose eyes does it matter most- buyer, seller, or promoter?
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