Published: May 8, 2007
Every Sunday between April and early December is reserved by a loyal group of antiques vendors who come from near and far in the dark hours before dawn to one of the biggest and most popular weekly flea markets in the area. April 22, 2007, was late for promoter Greg Baecker to have opening day at the Elephant’s Trunk Country Flea Market, but things just interfered: April 1, there was snow on the ground; April 8 was Easter (he never runs on Easter) and on April 15 the worst storm in 15 years dumped more than 8 inches of rain and effectively closed Route 7 where the flea market is located. The rain almost kept Baecker from opening on April 22 †right up until Saturday, his website carried a warning that he might not open.
“My father-in-law walked the field on Thursday around 2 pm and when he called me, I was sure we would have to postpone for one more week. Over half the field, around 200 spaces, was still under water,” said Baecker. But on Friday the sun shone and the temperature went up to almost 70 degrees, followed by a Saturday that was even better. “I decided to open and posted information on the website that there would only be 275 spaces available; the rest were filled with standing water,” he continued.
He and his staff were in place at 3 am as the parking area filled with line upon line of trucks, cars, trailers, vans and every kind of vehicle imaginable. “I was kind of worried that I would have some problems,” he said, “but even the 40 or so unlucky vendors who were turned away were resigned about not getting a site.” One vendor said, “Next week I’ll get here earlier. I had no idea everyone arrived so early.”
Baecker opens the gate to vendors at 4:30 and the stream flows in, under tight supervision, filling the field according to the directions of Baecker’s staff. With flashlights in hand, and an air of urgency, vendors rush to peruse other vendors’ setups before returning to lay out their own.
As dealers on the field busied themselves setting up, a long line of shoppers anxiously waited in the dark for the start of early buying at 5:45 ($20). As soon as the crowd hit the field, transactions were taking place at a fast and furious pace. Another good-sized crowd awaited the regular opening at 7, when the price of admission drops to $1. Attendance for the day was around 3,100 people, Baecker said, which is close to the high for a day.
“There is this pent-up excitement on opening day, it’s a release for a lot of people. I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘Thank God, you’re open, Sundays have been so boring all winter.’ Lots of vendors set up close to each other all summerlong, and then they don’t see each other until we open again in the spring, so on opening day there’s lots of visiting and swapping of winter tales,” Baecker explained.
With room to accommodate about 490 dealers and parking places for more than 1,000 eager buyers, the number of vendors varies from week to week (mostly determined by the weather) as does the selection of merchandise. At least half of the vendors bring antiques, with the management roughly estimating that of the remaining half, 20 percent deal in collectibles and 30 percent in crafts and new merchandise. Dealers bring anything from high-end antiques to boxes filled with toothpaste and tube socks. “We had lots and lots of antiques dealers this opening day,” Baecker said, “but not a lot of plant dealers; they told me it was still too early to plant this spring.
“The market started in 1975,” Baecker continued, “and I took over in 1976. At that time we were setting up dealers on the front lawn of the house [which now serves as an office for the Trunk], usually about eight of them, and the spaces were $8 a spot. As other regional markets began to close down, more and more vendors made their way to the Elephant’s Trunk and soon the fields in back of the house, once leased to a farmer for haying, were being cut for exhibitor space. We used to find the farmer’s cows on our field at 3 am, and we would have to herd them back to their barn.”
With the farm long-since gone, when Baecker and his crew arrive these days all they find is a long line of dealers patiently waiting admittance onto the field. This year’s opening day saw around 270 vendors, with about 40 or so turned away. “On an average Sunday between May and October, we get around 300,” said the promoter.
The Sunday shows just before and just after Brimfield, and holiday weekends, are extremely popular. The furthest any dealer has reportedly traveled to the show is from Texas, claimed the promoter, adding, “We also have one from Louisiana that regularly does the show. They are both Brimfield exhibitors and they set up the Sunday before and after Brimfield week,” he said.
If license plates are any indication of where people came from, a saunter through the field and parking lot revealed plates from Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts †there was even one from Virginia and a couple from Delaware.
Nicholas and Susan Richey drove up from Port Jefferson, N.Y., with a truck packed with early blanket boxes, early American chests of drawers, rockers and a collection of early smalls and primitive folk items.
Ryan Downer brought lots of old wrought iron garden decorations and fencing from upstate New Hampshire, and David Dew Bruner came from Hudson, N.Y., for his third time setting up at the “Trunk,” as it is affectionately called.
Many dealers indicated they are from a long line of Trunk vendors. “We’re third generation,” Kurtis Patzliff of Wolcott, Conn., said. “My grandfather used to come when it first opened, and then my Dad came and now we both come.” They were showing an old framed map, old camping lanterns, bottles and their mainstay †minerals, crystals and fossils.
Karen Marquis was waiting patiently near the front of the line. “I don’t have far to come,” she admitted, “I am from right here in Brookfield. I used to come as a little girl; my parents sold antiques. Now I sell Midcentury Modern. It’s very popular and I love it.” She continued, “I just bought a gem of a house, it’s completely untouched 1950s †sort of a cross between James Bond and Austin Powers. It’s a precious time warp and my collection is perfect it in.”
Talking to her after opening day, she said, “I forgot my flashlight and it was pitch dark as I was running around checking out all the other dealers. I found what I thought were five or six great matching chairs and when I called the dealer †he leaves his cell phone number while he’s out buying so anyone can reach him †he agreed to sell them to me. When I went back in the light, they were all different colors! He let me off the hook, and I bought a coffee table from him instead.”
Baecker recalls the market’s evolution into the popular event it is today. “There were times when we would fill the space we had available and more dealers would show up. We used to raise alfalfa in the back part of the fields, so I would tell them to wait right there. I would go get the lawn mower and cut a spot for them on the edge of the alfalfa field,” he said.
The entire field is now used for dealer space, which is mostly given out on a first-come, first-served basis, although some of the regular dealers have reserved spots in the front of the market. Baecker was telling them, “There won’t be any reserved spots until May this year.” While some grumbling greeted those words, most took it philosophically. “I guess I’ll just get here earlier next week,” one regular commented.
There is hectic selling from the minute the market opens to early buyers through the regular buyers coming in at 7. Rumors fly around the field at light speed and it is not uncommon to see buyers rushing to one spot or another. Opening day saw a frantic crowd digging into one latecomer’s truck as he tried to unload. Paintings and instruments were being scrutinized as others just pulled out their money and held up whatever they had found; there were no complaints from the dealer, who shouted back the price.
Enticing tales of discovery and rich rewards percolate through the Elephant’s Trunk Country Flea Market †some are even confirmed. Closing day, barring any snow on the ground, will be December 16. For more information, 508-869-1975 or www.etflea.com.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm