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A Brimfield Diary
Three times a year, in May, July, and September, the sleepy town of Brimfield, Massachusetts transforms itself into the antiquing equivalent of the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Billed as the world’s largest outdoor antique market, Brimfield plays host to about 5,000 exhibitors and 250,000 visitors over a six-day period. This year marked my first return in about 5 years, and I kept a diary to convey some sense of the organized chaos that is Brimfield.
1:00 a.m., Wednesday, May 13, New York City: The adventure begins with a 3-hour drive up to Brimfield, which is located about six miles west of Sturbridge in central Massachusetts. This was a spur-of-the-moment decision, based on a weather forecast of 70 degrees with a zero percent chance of rain. The last time there was a zero percent chance of rain in the spring was 1964, so I decided to take advantage and exhibit. If all goes according to plan, I will set up and shop prior to a 9 a.m. opening, exhibit from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then pack up, wander around a bit, and drive back down to New York. All told, 23 hours straight on three hours of sleep, so I’ll have to pace myself and drink lots of coffee.
4:00 a.m., Brimfield, Massachusetts: Arrived at Heart-O-The-Mart, where I have a booth next to the pond. I forgot that it is cold, dark, and wet (with dew) in May in central Massachusetts at four in the morning. Fortunately, I had a sweater and a flashlight in the van, so I was able to function. Pre-dawn light revealed a heavy mist that was atmospheric, and would have been enjoyable if it weren’t so cold and wet.
6:00 to 8:30 a.m., Brimfield: Set up my booth with a potpourri of small objects, furniture, and vintage design books, mostly priced to sell. I also browsed the field, trying to score a good piece of modern design. Unfortunately, this is no mean task, as a) fewer worthy things turn up at Brimfield than in the past, b) prices are higher than they used to be (everybody knows what the thing sold for at Rago six months ago), and c) several dozen dealers from New York manage to get in early, and are all looking for the same things. Still, if you stick your head into enough trucks, you’ll probably find something, and I was rewarded for my efforts with a pair of Plycraft chairs I’d never seen before. Obviously from the mid-1960’s, with a psychedelic vinyl upholstery I would leave on them if it wasn’t torn. Still, they’ll look great refinished and reupholstered.
9:00 a.m., Brimfield: Heart-O-The-Mart opens. Event openings are staggered, allowing the swarm of dealers and bargain-hunters to storm the gates time and again in a stampede without the horns, but with all the aggression, adrenaline, and anticipation. I was safely inside at my booth, but in past years, I remember running at full speed to avoid being trampled. I began selling things immediately, and given the prices I was asking, continued doing so throughout the day. Haggling is de rigeur at Brimfield, but I made it difficult for some of my customers. I told one guy that two small Lightolier lamps were $10 each, and he hesitated a moment before sheepishly asking me if I’d take $15 for both. I think he was shocked when I agreed.
11:15 a.m., Brimfield: I darted over to the food court to grab a sandwich and coffee. Everyone at Brimfield winds up at the food court at one point or another, including Brimfield’s finest, shown here fortifying themselves with fried dough.
11:21 a.m., Brimfield: Shortly after visiting the food court, everyone at Brimfield searches for a Portosan. I am no exception. The Portosan is the scourge of the outdoor antiques market, and it is fair to say that it is looked at with fear and loathing. The question is always, “How long can you hold your breath?” and the answer is always, “Not long enough.”
4:00 p.m., Brimfield: The market is winding down, and so am I. It turned out to be a glorious, sunny day. It was fun meeting people and dealing face-to-face, something I’d not done much of for the past few years, but I’m beginning to question the wisdom of my all-in-one-day plan.
10:25 p.m., Brimfield: What was I thinking? I’m too old for this $#@&. Next time, a hotel with a bath and silk sheets.
11:30 p.m., New York: Piece of cake.
All images by Larry Weinberg.