How to tackle Brimfield
Only at Brimfield can you find taxidermied animals, buckets of toy soldiers, Smurfs, vintage shift dresses, anchors, and rainbow parasols. For the uninitiated, we’re talking about the Brimfield Antique Show. It’s Day Two of the show that runs July 10-15 this year, attracting collectors and designers (excuse me, Martha, mine!) from all over the country, so take advantage of this sublime summer and head out to Western MA for the day. Can’t make it? The show comes around again in September.
I hit the show yesterday on opening day after scanning the tips of Brimfield organizers and scouring blogs for the inside scoop. But the suggestions read a bit like those over-the-top-cautious hiking tips to bring 17 layers, enough water to hydrate a camel, and a tent and sleeping bag in case you get stranded. Here, I offer my own tips that you may find handy.
When to go
The show is held in May, July, and September each year, so pick your favorite season. In May you have the possibility of rain, and in July, the hot sun; but September sounds just right. This week promises to be sunny and hot, as evidenced by my flagging energy at Hour Two. The show runs rain or shine, and while the elements won’t deter diehard collectors, rain may dampen (ahem) your experience. You can buy a poncho, look ridiculous, and suck it up, or you could just go another day.
Strategy comes into play when planning the time of day to visit, too. Go in the morning and you’ll find yourself on the road at 3 a.m. to compete with dealers when the gates open; but you do have the best chance of seeing the goods that get snapped up first. Go at midday and it’s a bit quieter, but the height of the day could mean you’re contending with the heat. Go in the evening and you could be one happy camper; while you miss some initial bargains, you can shop at twilight and the dealers may be ready to deal. Imagine what you could score on the last evening on the last day of the show.
Pay $5 and park in the middle of the mile-long stretch. Five bucks is reasonable (you could probably pay less but have to hoof it even farther or pay more for no reason that I can deduce) and you’ll be able to walk back to the car with your purchases. Or to take a nap.
Everyone recommends you bring water. And yes, it gets HOT and you get tired and no one wants to get dehydrated in a dry field mobbed with people, but you know what? Water is heavy. A buck or two will get you cold water on the spot.
Experts advise packing snacks (again with the carrying) for healthier choices and to sustain you. But where there is fair food (hot dogs, steak sandwiches, and fried dough!) there is happiness. Splurge on fries. You’re gonna splurge on that stunning chandelier anyway, so what’s another $10? I found a nice variety in the food corral, actually: Greek salads, Ben & Jerry’s, mac n’ cheese and some killer apple cider doughnuts. Life is short.
What to wear
This is no time to debut the gingham espadrilles. Wear comfy shoes that you can walk all day in and don’t mind getting dirty. The fields are dry and dusty or wet and muddy. Wear light layers and check the weather. In July, dress like you’re going to the beach. May and September could go either way: beachwear or a scarf and hat. It’s New England.
Wear sunscreen. If you need inspiration, read this graduation speech from 1997.
Know your prices
A little legwork in advance could put you in a strong negotiating position. But all the research in the world will not stop you from shelling out an exorbitant sum when you spot the rare, speckled ostrich feather you need to complete your collection. Still, dealers expect haggling; just do it in a respectful manner. Try, “What’s the best you could do on this old ostrich feather?” It’s like negotiating a salary; let them name the price first because it might be less than you expected.
And bring cash—more than you think you need. Then go back to the ATM and get more.
I hoped to pick up some crocks for my patio garden, after scoring this white one at a yard sale for less than $10. But my failure to research meant I had a good laugh when I realized some vintage vessels cost upwards of $80. Geraniums just didn’t seem worthy.
You snooze, you lose. If you circle around feigning disinterest, someone will grab the item you covet before you can finish hemming and hawing. But then, you shouldn’t exclaim, “OMG, it’s a 1970s Topo Gigio doll in mint condition!” either, because you lose all bargaining power, not to mention your self-respect.
If you see something you decide to come back to, good luck—not only because it might be gone (likely), but because the place is a rabbit warren of labyrinthine paths designed to disorient you. I like to think my navigation skills rival that of a GPS, but after a while, all the booths and dealers and fields start to look alike.
Transporting the goods
Show regulars suggest bringing a cart. I suppose if you’re a serious collector or have an unlimited budget, by all means, bring a cart at the risk of looking like an 82-year-old hitting the grocery store. But be aware you’ll have to park your cart outside most stalls; plus, they’re unwieldy and prone to running over errant feet. If you’re just hoping to pick up a trinket or two (and not a stone urn), ditch the cart and bring a backpack. Also, there are entrepreneurial porters who will sweat for you as they wheel your bargains to your car.
Bring a clothespin. When nature calls, your only option is a portable restroom facility, which we all know is a much fancier phrase for the stifling little shack that shields you while you pee in a hole in the ground. Just know that the best part of leaving Brimfield is not riding home with a carload full of treasures, but the promise of a clean bathroom.
Pets are not banned from the show, but they’re not exactly encouraged. It can be a long hot day for a beagle, and one innocent wag of the tail could mean you end up owning a broken (fill in the blank with the priciest item you can think of). But if you dog is cute (and it is, obviously), put that fuzzy face to work to get yourself a bargain.
Bring a tape measure (not an impractical ruler like yours truly) so you’ll know for sure that the red Formica table will not possibly fit in your car—or your kitchen. Take a moment to collect yourself. I know how you feel. I left these red lockers behind. Sigh.
Go with your gut
The most important tip: if you love it, buy it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t worry about whether it will “go” with your decor. It’s your decor; make it go! If an object moves you or raises your blood pressure in pure joy, buy it and love it unconditionally. Until you decide to sell it at a yard sale.