Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Brimfield, Massachusetts - the Antiques "Carnival"

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Earlier in my blog I'd mentioned the antiques shows and flea markets at Brimfield, Massachusetts. Since the July Brimfield shows are coming soon, I thought I'd give you an overview of what goes on in this antiques mecca. (For those of you who are already familiar with Brimfield, this might be a rehash of what you already know . . . ) But here are a few Brimfield-tips:

Brimfield is about an hour due west of Boston, and is a wonderful antiquing experience. In fact, it's darn close to a carnival atmosphere, very much a full day of fun . One never knows what to expect at Brimfield, and if you've never been there before, it's an event you will never forget. Thousands of sellers with nearly anything you can think of will offer you antiques choices ranging from the tiniest thimbles to the largest furniture you've laid eyes on - somewhere in one of the twenty individual Brimfield shows there's a dealer wanting to sell really nifty antiques to you.

Brimfield is held three times a year without fail, every May, July and September. The remaining dates for 2006 are July 10-16 and September 4-10. Officially, Brimfield begins on the Tuesday of these weeks and ends on the following Sunday. However, those in the know get there by Sunday evening, when some exhibitors begin setting up (especially those in shows closest to Brimfield's town square). The set-up continues through Monday, and many buyers are able to score really neat things by coming early.

The majority of the shows open on Tuesday, but there are several good ones which open on Wed, Thursday and Friday at different times. Some shoppers try to be at the openings of every show they can manage, feeling that they will have a better chance of finding their favorite antiques before they are snapped up. Prices can be very reasonable at Brimfield.

Cash works best, but some dealers will also accept checks. There are ATM machines to be found at Brimfield, too. Most sellers are not able to accept credit cards, since they are selling in open fields, however there are a few who do.

You should be aware that by Brimfield town ordinance, no selling is allowed until Tuesday dawn. That means that a dealer selling on Sunday or Monday risks getting a ticket if caught selling on either of those days. It doesn't seem to stop them from Sunday and Monday selling, though.

Come rain or shine, hurricanes or tornadoes, flooding or 100+ degree heat, Brimfield is never cancelled. Almost all of the shows are outside, with very few with indoor exhibitors. A few shows have open-air pavilions. Some sellers bring their own tents, or hire tents from the show promoters.

Exhibitors come prepared with a wide range of clothing to wear, from shorts to winter coats, just because one can't possibly count on any particular kind of weather in Brimfield. Most of them are in Brimfield for several days, sometimes the whole week, and there's isn't a nearby store to buy additional clothing if needed.

You should be clothing-prepared too. Always bring footware and rain gear capable of getting you through a day of slogging in rain and mud. Boots are needed to slosh wet, sloppy fields; if it's warm and dry, sneakers will do. Experienced shoppers skip high-heels and sandals, knowing that all the outdoor walking they'll be doing will cause agony by the end of the day in the wrong kind of footwear. In fact, it's not unusual to see serious shoppers wear hiking boots or shoes with good support and heavy socks. After all, who wants a sprained ankle with no hospital nearby? Wear tried-and-true footwear, and you'll be much happier when trekking the large, uneven fields of Brimfield.

Skip the umbrella - nothing is worse than being in a huge crowd, trying to see what merchandise is available as everyone squeezes around tables, and then being poked in the eye with an umbrella rib. Wear a rain jacket with a hood, or wear a rain hat. Or, just accept that you might get wet and live with it. I wear a hooded rain jacket with several deep internal pockets, and I take gloves with me just in case it's cold. Keep wallets, check books, cameras and other valuables inside interior pockets - there are pickpockets who work the crowds of Brimfield.

Use sunscreen religiously! Even on hazy days, a long day outdoors at Brimfield can mean your new color is lobster-red (and painful).

Many shows do not charge admission. Some do. Generally (but not always), the better the show's quality, the more you should expect to pay to get in. Admissions are usually in the $5/per person range. One of the exceptions is Hertan's, which is a fun, outdoor quality country-themed show under a beautiful canopy of trees. This show opens on Wednesday at noon with the official Blowing of the Horn - free admission, lots of comfortable shady walkways, decent food with places to sit, this show is well-worth attending.

Certain Brimfield shows expect their sellers to offer only antiques, while others allow anything to be sold. Treasures abound on every field - it's just a matter of finding them. J & J's wants their exhibitors to sell only antiques, and highly discourages any reproductions. Same with May's, Hertan's and Brimfield Acres, just to name a few. Other shows allow anyone to sell anything; reproductions are commonly seen at these shows, often mixed in with real antiques. Be sure to politely ask if you are not certain of an item's age.

Just remember - buyer beware! Knowledge is important when buying at the Brimfield shows. Buy things because you like them, but know what you are paying for. If you are only spending a few dollars, it may not be so important if it's not old. However, when you are paying big bucks, you'll want to know the age, history and any other pertinent information the seller can give you IN WRITING on their receipt, which should also have their name, address and phone number.

If you plan on being in Brimfield for several days (really - this is the only way to visit Brimfield), plan ahead for a place to stay. All the close motels and hotels are usually fully booked months in advance. There are several big name chain hotels in Sturbridge, which is seven miles east of Brimfield. Sturbridge is a great location for restaurants, and there's an afternoon antiques show on Thursday of Brimfield week that is top-notch. It's at the Sturbridge Host Hotel, with free parking, and has some high quality dealers who really know their antiques. I've shopped it with excellent results.

In terms of hotels in other areas, you will probably end up driving a half hour or more to the nearest available hotel. Some folks stay at hotels in Springfield, Mass. while others stay in Auburn. Planning ahead means booking a room several months in advance. Do not arrive in Brimfield thinking you'll be able to just wander into any hotel and secure a room. It probably won't happen. If it does, it'll most likely cost you a whole lot of money. If you are making a last minute trip to Brimfield, sometimes you can find a hotel with an unexpected cancellation, so it's always worth a phone call.

Food in Brimfield can be wonderful or it can be miserable. Great choices of eats are offered at the food court in front of the New Englander Motel. From healthy wrap sandwiches to soups to lobster - the range is terrific, and there's usually a place to sit. Avoid the long lines from 11:30 am - 1 pm, and don't expect the food to be cheap. However, the quality is good and the people-watching is fabulous!

There are food stands everywhere. Just about every antiques show has it's own food concession, so you'll have plenty of opportunity for breakfast and lunch. Lots of ethnic foods are available, plus plenty of good old-fashioned American food too. You might want to carry a snack in your pocket, just to carry you until you can actually sit down somewhere and eat. If you are searching for a true sit-down restaurant, try Francesco's for good pizza and Italian pastas.

I find it's easier to just eat at one of the outdoor stands, but some folks do bring their own food and just tailgate it. By leaving food in your cooler at your car, it allows you to carry back all your morning's purchases. Just remember - the fields of Brimfield stretch about a mile long, and you might end up a long ways from where you parked. Many folks haul a fold-up shopping cart with them for their food and their purchases. I don't, just because they are so cumbersome in crowds and more trouble than they are worth.

There are no free parking locations at the Brimfield shows. Parking usually costs around $5-6 per car for the day. There are parking areas throughout the show locations - in the yards of private homes, on the lawn of the local church, and in huge open fields dedicated just to parking. Many of the individual shows also offer parking.

DO NOT BRING PETS TO BRIMFIELD. I've seen several dog fights at Brimfield, and it's an ugly scene.

In one case I watched as a Rottweiler ON A LEASH did serious damage to a small poodle, and the poodle was the original aggressor (poodle was minus an ear when they were finally pulled apart - it was definitely bad judgement for both owners to bring their dogs). And don't leave your dog in your car! People will notice that your dog is being baked alive, and will call the police, who will break your car window and save your dog, then write you a ticket for animal abuse. Dogs don't care about antiques, so leave them home where they will be much happier.

DO NOT BRING CHILDREN TO BRIMFIELD. Children just do not enjoy being dragged around huge fields of old stuff, and after the first 10 minutes are bored to tears (literally) and want to go home. You won't enjoy your Brimfield experience, and will be far too distracted by unhappy youngsters - leave your kids home.

For additional information about individual shows and Brimfield in general, including maps, hotels, eateries, airports, and much more, click here.

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