How to do the Brimfield Antiques Market... and whether you should bring your kid(s)
The first Brimfield show of 2019 is coming up next week May 14-19 and I thought I would take some time to write about my experiences with Brimfield over the last 25+ years. This is the official site for the show with many FAQs and resources. Check it out before you read any further, as I have tailored my post to add things that are bot posted over there.
I started going to Brimfield with my dad as a customer in the 1980s and then after he opened White Water Antiques, I started visiting him at his booth. Then my brother got into the business with Mueller American Antiques in Collingsville, CT and it's now a family event! My dad and brother have shared a booth at May's show for at least 15 years and after my daughter was born in 2014, I have taken her almost every year. So since the 1980s, I have visited as a customer for the day, I have stayed all week in various locations near Brimfield, and have camped out ALL day for multiple days during many of the May and September shows, rain and shine.
How do I navigate the show? Start by picking your field(s) and day(s). Brimfield is organized by field, with the basic map to the right listing their names. Do yourself a favor and print this .pdf brochure before you go. The official website says there is cell and wifi access, however that it is highly variable on where you are in the show. Most plans have some coverage in some of the fields, but don't rely on your internet service to plan your day. The 1-page printed map with show openings will be your best friend. Organizers have tried to use social media but so far, the app has not delivered. The printed map is all you need. Also, the front of the field is not the best indicator of the rest of the field so keep exploring. This might not be intuitive to a new Brimfield shopper. I have favorite vendors in every field and the wares and price ranges vary a lot. In fact, many of the vendors set up in multiple fields in one week so if you go on a Tuesday, the fields will be different than Saturday.
When is the best time to buy? When you see something you like! In all seriousness, I have "lost" many things at Brimfield shows for "thinking about it some more". This includes lower end and higher end items, though the risk of losing something to another buyer is probably lower the more expensive the item. But that's not always true. You know yourself better than anyone, so figure out these two things to develop your own buying strategy: 1) how long you really need to decide whether I really want something and 2) how much am I reasonably willing to pay? This means that going in the morning at the field opening is a good bet if you're looking for specific items, but the shopping is still good in the afternoon. Make it work for your schedule, and shoot for a half day or a full day with well-planned rests.
Where should you park? I strongly prefer getting there around 8:30am (or closer to 8) and parking in the middle at my favorite lot in the J&J field- their main entrance is off the main road, located slightly north of Mill Lane. My second favorite is the lot at the farm at the top of the hill on Mill Lane. They are my favorites for multiple reasons, especially with a kid: there is a lot of room to get in and out of your vehicle, you can go back and forth to your car throughout the day, there are fewer driving hazards like in other fields where you drive right by booths and customers, and it's fairly easy to get in and out. The Mill Lane intersection will seem crazy at first glance, but I promise you will get out at the end of the day. Also, it will function more smoothly when there are not police attempting to move traffic. I find that's the case for most of the intersections during the show. Sure, you can expect a horn honking from a local here and there, but for the most part people are very accommodating to drivers and people pushing giant wagons of stuff.
How can I get my stuff back to my car? I see empty carts everywhere, usually empty, so make sure your cart size matches your buying plan. Ikea bags are a good idea for non-breakable or well-wrapped items. Most dealers have bags for smaller items and will wrap them for you. You can hire a porter to bring medium-large items to your car right away, or drive to the booth at the end of the day to pick up larger items (please agree on a pickup time and commit to it so the dealer isn't waiting all afternoon for you). If you are on the market for furniture, bring the necessary truck for loading or rent a UHaul down the street. I usually see a few pick up and utility trucks at the lots nearby, so you can rent one if you impulse buy a giant leather couch or an amusement park ride. If you are limited to the space of your own vehicle, write down the measurements of the interior (with seats down) and then bring a small tape measure for shopping. The UPS Store also sets up 1-2 booths, where you can get small items shipped with UPS rates or larger items shipped with freight rates. You'll see signs for their booths on the side of the road slightly north of Mill Lane.
How should I negotiate the best price? Expect to go through 1-3 back and forth exchanges, starting with asking the dealer for a price. But please believe the dealer if you ask, "what's your best price" even if you don't get the price you want to pay. Don't make it personal, don't insult the dealer, and don't insult their wares. They are collectors by vocation and hobby, and they are fully aware of the condition of the thing you are trying to buy. And a failed bargain does not mean the dealer is a bad person or they are not smart about their merchandise! It just means you could not agree, that's all. If it does not work, say thank you, have a nice day, and be polite as you walk away. Not all Brimfield deals are meant to be. The "correct" price is whatever you and the dealer decide together that day. Besides, if you adopted a good buying strategy then you already set your own spending boundaries and can let it go.
What about options for paying? Many dealers have a square or other option for cards. Many do not. I strongly suggest bringing cash and there are a few banks of ATM booths on the street. Many dealers will also still accept checks. But cash is king.
Should I bring my kid(s)? Yes and no. Kind of like your dog. Honestly, I would rather bring a kid than a dog, considering the hazards of leashes getting in the way and knocking down valuable merchandise unless they fit in your handbag. At least you can tie down your kid in a stroller or wagon! Use my checklist to decide:
Is your kid small enough to be carried on you? Bring them! This is the easiest way to do Brimfield with a baby/small toddler. I used a standard and then larger toddler size of the Tula soft carrier for years and it was a dream.
Is your kid a runner? Traffic is constant in Brimfield and tents are not always secure. Some booths have open displays of knives and/or swords. There is a LOT of glass, very expensive glass. And there is a lot of art that is not protected from small people. In short, there is a lot of danger for runners. Leave your kid at home.
Does your kid randomly grab at things without looking first? See above. Don't bring your kid.
Is your kid a picky eater? This depends. There are a lot of good food trucks (skip the long line for Pilgrim sandwiches), but you may not have any idea what's in your food. I have seen a few (okay maybe 1 or 2?) food-sensitive vendors but for the most part, if you have a picky eater then pack your own food. This also means you have to pack and carry a cooler, or park in the middle so you can go back to your car for lunch.
Has your kid gotten a tetanus shot? Other recommended vaccines? There is a lot of old, rusty metal. There are a lot of people from around the world with a lot of new viruses and bacteria on all sorts of surfaces. Be smart, be precautious. Bring a small first aid kit and bug repellant for ticks (just use the Deet, it works). And don't read too much into this- just be aware of the health risks, and prepare accordingly.
Are you planning to seriously shop for specific items? Your attention will be divided most of the day because of all the hazards, and unless you are carrying your kid on you, think twice about bringing them.
Do you want to buy breakable things? See above. Transport will be your biggest issue here, especially when the inevitable meltdown hour starts at 4-5pm (or earlier).
If you go for it, bring the most comfortable and durable transportation option for your kid(s) if you choose to bring them. If you bring a stroller it should be one that has off-roading wheels and can be lifted fairly easily. Oh, and it should be narrow and very easy to maneuver in tight spaces. And have cupholders or something to hold drinks and food. So in short, a unicorn stroller that does not exist. If you have one, ignore me and carry on. Instead, consider using a thus Radio Flyer wagon:
Instead, consider using this Pathfinder Radio Flyer wagon or the EZ fold wagon with seats.
Why these particular models? Your kid will need the back support for a long day, the wheels are pretty sturdy and big enough for the rough terrain, the wagon itself is sturdy enough to carry 1 child + stuff or 2 children and very little stuff, and it has cupholders. Do NOT talk yourself into bringing the vintage metal Radio Flyer (the Classic Red or Big Red Classic) without back support and cupholders, despite how instagram-worthy it will look at Brimfield (and yes, it will look fabulous). If you are tempted , imagine trying to simultaneously hold your kid and drinks for you and/or your kid, push your now empty Radio Flyer wagon, and carry anything else you've bought in the heat or pouring rain. I've seen it and it is not pretty.
Other Tips with Kids:
Ask dealers before you let your kid(s) climb on things for cool photos. Some are more than happy to oblige, others are not. Respect their decision and move on.
Bring snacks and hydration. This is good advice for you, too! See below for some tips.
Make it a half day your first time. The days in Brimfield can be very long for you and your kid.
Favorite food stands: The biggest change in the last 10 years has been the food. With the popularity of food trucks, there are more food options at Brimfield. The stands in the "food court" in the middle north of Mill Lane are also pretty good, as most of them are popular Brimfield veterans. Across the street from the food court is the famous Pilgrim Sandwiches- I recommend saving your time and skipping that experience, as they are slightly-fancy subs that aren't worth the long wait (#controversialBrimfieldopinion). A Japanese truck has also been parked across from the food court, behind the Mac and Cheese truck- they serve a great fried noodle dish with fresh veggies. Also relatively new are the local coffee joints that setup in different fields throughout the week, so look out for their "coffee" signs on the road for locations. For hydration and snacks, there are several lemonade and ice cream stands. Ben & Jerry's is my favorite Brimfield stop, located on the street near the Central Park field south of Mill Lane right next to Pilgrim sandwiches and with a much-shorter line.
Bathroom breaks with or without kids: Most fields have banks of larger porta-potties with decent hand wash stations that are well-maintained. They are usually in the back and you can ask any dealer(s) where the bathrooms are located in their field. The small buildings with bathroom signs are usually reserved for dealers, and please don't ask to use those unless you are in dire need of a full room. Many dealers camp overnight and those little houses become their primary communal bathroom for 3-5 nights. Keeping them clean becomes difficult if they are opened to the public.
Where can I stay? You're probably keenly aware that lodging is limited and most places sell out quickly. I book rooms for the next show 6-9 months away while I am there and that still does not guarantee rooms. My favorite is the Sturbridge Reeder Inn. Last year, I stayed with my daughter in a room in one of their old houses and it was just like the Haunted Mansion at Disney! We had just been to Disney, so this was an added bonus. If you're making a trip out of Brimfield, you can take a day to visit Sturbridge and explore the village. This hotel is reasonably priced, they have a free continental breakfast, it's a clean property, and their staff is very friendly. My next choice would probably be the Holiday Inn Express in Sturbridge or the chain hotels in Ludlow or Chicopee on the Mass Pike. The Chicopee and Ludlow options are more reasonably priced than the cheaper hotels in Sturbridge or Brimfield and are near food and grocery stores. Either way, you have to drive into Brimfield. I have done both, and prefer the location of Sturbridge but am willing to go with Chicopee if Reeder Inn or Holiday Inn Express are sold out.
Enjoy these photos of my kid at Brimfield!