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Nancy Rivers fondly recalls being around 10 years old when she used to attend Gordon Reid’s Famous Antiques Flea Market with her older brother. The renowned show in small town Brimfield, Massachusetts, was starting to gain traction in the 1960s.

“At the time, there were like 10 or 15 dealers in Brimfield,” Rivers said. “(My brother) used to bring me along so I could sit at the table and watch the things while he was out buying and whatever. I used to sell little Tiffany vases for $35 and things like that. That was back in the good old days.”

Brimfield Flea Market

With 5,000 dealers stretched over 21 fields along one mile of Route 20 in Brimfield, Massachusetts, the annual flea markets are believed to be the largest and oldest outdoor antiques shows in the country.

Things have certainly evolved since Reid started his show in 1959. It’s gone through a couple name changes — it’s now the Brimfield Antique Flea Market — where dealers and attendees flock from all over the world to attend the shows that happen three times per year.

BRIMFIELD ANTIQUE FLEA MARKET: May 10-15, July 12-17 and September 6-11, Brimfield, Massachusetts. For more information: www.brimfieldantiquefleamarket.com

Touted as the oldest and largest outdoor antiques flea market in the United States, Brimfield — which most longtime dealers and promoters simply call it — is a one-stop shop for collectors alike.

“With Brimfield, no matter what you’re looking for, high end, low end, you can find anything there,” Rivers said.

Brimfield Flea Market

No matter what you're looking for, you're likely to find it at Brimfield. 

Rivers and her husband, Dan, became dealers at Brimfield in 1987 and have been working the event consecutively for the last two decades. Dan & Nancy’s Antiques has three booths and are located year-round within the Brimfield Antiques Center at the center of the Brimfield Antique Flea Market.

The flea market has a unique setup featuring over 20 privately-owned show fields. In all, those fields stretch more than one mile along both sides of Route 20. During a well-attended show, it’s not uncommon to hit 5,000 dealers selling their merchandise. The show fields are not necessarily themed, so there is a mix of exhibitors on each field.

“You may have people with jewelry, vintage clothing, mid-century modern, older folk art — it runs the gamut,” said promoter Lori Faxon. “We’re got everything, architectural, you name it.”

Dealer Stephen Corrigan, who runs Stephen-Douglas Antiques on May’s Antique Market field, has been setting up at Brimfield for 40-plus years.

“If you like antiques, even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s like a circus or a carnival,” he said. “There’s so much going on. It’s fun to watch people there, and you see every kind of person imaginable. You can see every kind of piece of merchandise imaginable.”

Brimfield offers a festival of fun, often surprising visitors with whimsical delights.

Brimfield offers a festival of fun, often surprising visitors with whimsical delights.

The 75-year-old Corrigan has also witnessed the evolution of Brimfield over the years.

“A couple of years ago, it was just waves and waves and waves of people coming,” Corrigan said. “It’s almost scary the number of people if you were set up at the show, there were just waves of people. They’re from all over — they’re from Europe, they’re from the West Coast. That wasn’t the case when we first started out doing it. Mostly, it was people that could do it in a day’s drive from there. Now, it’s people that come from all over the country and stay there for a week.”

Faxon, who is the only promoter to own multiple fields, running Midway and Dealer’s Choice, has been working at Brimfield for the last 40 years. She’s watched fields change hands while the event has continued to blossom in attendance and popularity.

“One of the things I think is different is there’s a lot more retail than we used to have,” Faxon said. “I find that the retail on the weekend has grown a lot. There’s a lot of people that are coming here that are retail shoppers and we do notice that tremendously now.”

Brimfield Flea Market

Hordes of people come from all over to attend the three annual shows at Brimfield

Jody Young, who has been involved with the show for a long time and is the owner/founder of brimfieldantiquefleamarket.com, said the Brimfield Antique Flea Market started as a wholesale market and dealers would sell amongst one another.

“The nature of the shows started to change, especially when the internet started to take over, eBay and all that,” Young said. “There was a whole shift in how people were buying and selling. That affected the business quite a bit. It never went back to what it used to be. There is plenty of wholesale business, but not on the percentage wise it used to be, so that’s changed.”

What makes Brimfield so unique and special from other markets throughout the country?

“Number one the size, it’s very large,” Faxon said. “I think the mix of merchandise that’s available to the customers and there’s a lot of quality dealers that are here. A lot of people come here to shop from all over — we’ve got people from Asia, Europe, all over the United States, because we do have such good quality dealers. It’s a great operation.”

Be prepared for the craziness

Brimfield Antique Flea Market runs its three shows per year in the spring, summer and fall. This year’s events are scheduled for May 10-15, July 12-17 and September 6-11.

The May show is always the biggest because it provides the best weather and attendees and dealers are ready to go, Young noted.

“It’s the most exciting, because the dealers have had their merchandise packed away, they accumulated and say they have been buying new stuff throughout the winter season and then it’s the first outdoor show they do,” said Young, who used to run the Journal of Antiques and Collectibles magazine.

Brimfield Flea Market

Good walking shoes, sunscreen and the ability to remember where you parked your car all come in handy at Brimfield.

Young has heard that Massachusetts State Police estimate upwards of 50,000 people attend the May show. Young estimates that at least 50% of attendees return each year to Brimfield. July doesn’t have as big a crowd because of the sweltering heat and fewer dealers set up at Brimfield. September is the second-best attended show.

Whether it’s the May show or one of the others, dealers generally do very well. It’s a big chunk of their business per year during those six days.

“I used to go there and sell 300 items in a day. I don’t do that anymore,” Corrigan said. “But I do sell a lot of stuff. The cost of the show, which is very marginal, you can do a lot of business there. There is a price cap on what sells there, for the most part, but you never can tell.

“Honest to God, if you had something you had no idea what it was, you can take it to Brimfield and somebody’s going to know what it is and want to buy it. There’s just people there for everything.”

With so much ground to cover, it can be overwhelming for attendees to hit all the booths they want to see. People are encouraged to pace themselves and plan ahead.

Faxon hears quite a bit of feedback from first-time attendees of the Brimfield Antique Flea Market.

“They’re shocked. They can’t even believe what they’re looking at,” Faxon said. “There’s just so much to see, and people think they’re going to see it all in a day. Realistically, if you want to see it all, you’ve got to be here for several days, there’s that much. Some people are a little nervous because of the size and they said, ‘Oh, it’s too overwhelming.’ I tell them, ‘You park your car, you shop for a while, when you’re tired, you take a break, you have some lunch and shop for a little while in the afternoon. Even if you can’t see it all, see what you can.’”

The show goes on rain or shine, so attendees need to come prepared. Since it’s out in the elements, Faxon suggests bringing an umbrella, raincoat, boots and — the item that is most commonly forgotten — sunscreen.

“I always tell people this: ‘Pay attention to where you parked your car.’ A lot of people forget,” Faxon said. “These fields, when you’re walking around sometimes you may not notice you went from one field to another, because it’s tent after tent. Make sure you figure out where you parked your car so you can find it at the end of the day. I know that sounds silly, but it’s important.”

Shows must go on

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all three shows in 2020 were cancelled. Last year, the May show didn’t officially go on — there was some confusion — and July was cancelled. The September show was back open, but people weren’t out in droves similar to pre-pandemic.

Dealers and promoters are anticipating a different feeling this year: a big bounce back.

“I’m expecting it to be gangbusters,” Rivers said. “We did good last year, even with the show not being open.

“In May, we had people lined up to the backdoor. They came from everywhere thinking that the show was on. We expected people to be upset. No, it was like they were birds let out of a cage. They were so happy we were open.”

Come May 10, the craziness will get underway. Six days later, the dust will settle and another big Brimfield will be in the books. Everyone will be happier to get back at it and return to some normalcy in their antique-craving lives.

“Every indication of what shows I’ve done this year has been big crowds,” Corrigan said. “A lot of people were hesitant to come last summer and fall, because of COVID, even though they had it. It hasn’t taken the energy out of it exactly, but it’s changed things a lot — it really has. I don’t know if it will ever come back to what it was. But like I said to Ms. (Martha) May, ‘This is going to be the last man standing. Brimfield will be there when everything has collapsed for shows.’ People like going, it’s fun.”

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