Brimfield brimming with treasures

Brimfield is center of antiques universe for three weeks each year

By Tom Hoepf – For Antique Trader

Brimfield, Mass., is ordinarily a quiet New England community of 3,000 residents, except for three weeks a year when it becomes a tent city populated by tens of thousands of antiques sellers and buyers.

Every May, July and September, Brimfield swarms with activity as home of the oldest, largest and best-known of the outdoor antique markets. Twenty independently owned shows, all located within a mile stretch along U.S. Route 20, attract customers from across America and around the world.

“Brimfield has an energy and a magnetism that in my judgment is unparalleled,” said Don Moriarty, who with his wife, Pam, manages Heart-O-The-Mart, a five-day show celebrating its 25th season. “What makes it so exciting is for five days there’s this choreographed opening of field after field of more than 4,000 dealers. … There’s high energy here, especially in May. It reverberates from one end of town to the other as these shows open,” he said.

This season’s dates are May 9-14, July 11-16 and Sept. 5-10.

The event began in 1959 when local auctioneer Gordon Reid opened his property to a few dozen antique dealers. The number of dealers steadily increased, overflowing into neighboring fields. Now known as J & J Promotions for Reid’s daughters, Judith Reid-Matthiew and Jill Reid Lukesh, the successor to the original show remains a Brimfield fixture.

“I think the quality of dealers we have has been number one. The public comes back because they know what to expect from our show. They certainly know it’s not yard sale or new merchandise. It’s antiques and good quality old collectibles,” said Matthiew.

J & J’s is one of two Brimfield shows that are only two days in duration.

“We feel two days is plenty to ask people to be out on a field. A lot of (vendors) do the business in two days that may take others four, five or six days to do,” said Matthiew.

It’s not that J & J’s customers endure deprivation. Its facilities include a lighted field, a food pavilion open round the clock, washrooms located adjacent to the food pavilion, and clean, portable restrooms located throughout the grounds.

The busiest time at J & J’s is Friday after its 6 a.m. opening. “Saturday is a fine day to shop also,” said Matthiew.

Across the street from J & J’s is Shelton Antique Shows, operated by Lois Shelton and her family.
When interviewed for this story, she was outside burning brush, an early spring chore in preparation for the May show.

“We have a home with a lot of trees and over the harsh winters, twigs and branches fall to the ground. It takes endless raking to make several acres of land dealer and customer friendly,” said Shelton, who has space for about 100 dealers.

Shelton said her show has no trouble maintaining momentum over the entire six-day run known as antique week at Brimfield.

“After all these years, momentum takes care of itself. Naturally you have the big opening-day rush, but because we are adjacent to other fields that open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we get a lot of the cross traffic after those shows open in the morning, and traditionally Saturday and Sunday have the big retail crowd,” said Shelton, who opened her field in 1975.

Shelton promotes her show as being pet friendly, not only to dealers but also to shoppers. “Fortunately people who bring their pets are veterans of this. Naturally, I expect anyone who comes with their animals to have them seasoned to shows, other dogs and people. There haven’t been any problems,” said Shelton, an animal lover.

Another long-running Brimfield show is May’s Antique Market, founded by Richard and Laura May. All five of their children participate in the market, which is in its 28th season. Martha Schroder, a daughter, said May’s Antique Market promotes the idea of offering fresh merchandise to its customers.

“Our dealers are required to wait until our gates open at 9 a.m. before unloading. The intent behind that is for our customers to get first dibs on fresh merchandise. So on our flier we advertise that at May’s everyone is an early buyer,” said Schroder.

May’s has 600 spaces, many occupied by dealers who have set up at the market since its inception in 1978, said Schroder. May’s Antique Market opens Thursday at 9 a.m. and continues through Saturday.
Pam and Don Moriarty open Heart-O-The-Mart on Wednesday at 9 a.m. and stay open through Sunday. A unique aspect of their market is a merchandise pickup center at one corner of their field, which eliminates motor vehicle movement.

“When a person buys something (large), they drive to our merchandise pickup area where we have porters available to get the merchandise to their car. There is no charge; the porters work for tips,” said Don Moriarty. “We have a policy that no vehicle moves on our field from a half hour before we open the gate until the show closes at the end of the day. It makes for a far safer and more pleasant selling venue.”
Heart-O-The-Mart has more than 500 dealers at every show.

“We have a high percentage of dealers who come back year after year and buyers are aware of that. For instance, a lady called from California wanting to know if a specific dealer was going to be in our field in his regular space,” said Moriarty. “If he was going to be there, she was going to fly to New York and come up for our show so she could visit his booth. … It’s certainly a testimonial to that dealer,” he said.

Another milestone will be reached as New England Motel Antique Market turns 20. Promoter Marie Doldoorian said she is optimistic about the 2006 season. “I’m always optimistic about Brimfield. Last year was wonderful. Last May was absolutely fantastic so we’re hoping for another great show like that,” she said.

Doldoorian credits her market’s success to her dealers. “Our dealers are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and they take such pride in their setups.”

Three open-sided post-and-beam buildings, 60 by 110 feet, constructed in recent years have enhanced the market. “They bring in a lot of people and it gives a new venue to our field. It makes a little higher end go in those buildings. We have a waiting list for them all the time,” said Doldoorian.

The 400-dealer New England Motel Antique, which opens Wednesday at 6 a.m. and remains open the balance of antique week, is topped off with an international food court that includes falafels, Indian-type dinners, Greek food and Maine lobster shore dinners. “We have a flavor of a lot of things — American Yankee cooking and great desserts,” said Doldoorian.

Robert Chartier, president of the Tri-Community Chamber of Commerce, said visitors to Brimfield will be “awed by the volume of merchandise and the volume of pedestrian traffic. Be prepared to do a lot of walking.”

The common-sense rules associated with all outdoor markets apply, such as dressing in layers, wearing comfortable footwear, and putting on rainwear or sun block accordingly. Because the morning dew is often heavy, it is advisable to carry an extra pair of socks to change later.

Show managers have additional tips. “I strongly recommend everyone set a meeting spot as soon as they get here. Set a specific spot to meet whomever you might be with,” said Matthiew.

Shelton recommends shoppers attach their phone number to their keys. “I must have 40 sets of keys here that get turned in. They don’t know where they lost them; it could have been anywhere within the mile,” she said.

Moriarty advises having information in hand that lists the times of the show openings. “The vast majority of buyers, if they’re at all veteran, know when each show opens. If they’re interested in being there for the opening of each show, that’s exactly what they do,” he said.

Ticket sales to his Heart-O-The-Mart market begin about a half hour before the four gates to the field open, creating the phenomenon that has become widely knows as the Brimfield rush.

To request a brochure that lists Brimfield shows and their starting times, phone the Sturbridge Information Center at (800) 628-8379.