How To Do Brimfield, America's Best, Biggest, Most Overwhelming Flea Market

Some people come across a football field of old stuff — crusty jackets with dirty Kleenex still in the pockets; rows of dusty bottles, some still with decades-old Coca-Cola in it; patched-up chairs that have more holes than actual stuffing — and would rather do anything than enter. For others, myself included, this is the literal description of The Happy Place. And the happiest of all Happy Places might very well be Brimfield Antique Show, the thrice-yearly, weeklong event that’s considered to be the largest, most reputable, and longest-running gathers of antique dealers in the country. It's a pain to get to, a monster to navigate, and will test your patience, your endurance, and your tolerance to heat, grime, and port-a-potties. But if you’re the latter kind of person, Brimfield is the GOAT.
Brimfield Antique Show, located in Brimfield, Massachusetts, represents over 6,000 dealers in over 20 different markets, or “promotions,” with names like Broomfield’s Heart-o-the-Mart of Dealer’s Choice. If it sounds like your Grandma named them, it’s because she probably did — many of these dealers have been frequenting the grounds since 1959, and refer to the vintage craze of the ‘70s like it was yesterday. Best known for housewares, Brimfield has its fair share of vintage clothing, too — but unlike the curated shops you might be used to seeing at urban flea markets and conventions, Brimfield is sprawling, disorganized, and unedited. Which means, it takes some work to uncover treasure.
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Firstly — go in May. I know that’s now. But, July is too hot (and many vendors stay home), and by September, most of the best pieces have sold. Serious buyers come during the beginning half of the week, and families will stop by during the weekends — if you’re a bargain hunter, try your hand at Sunday, when most dealers are looking to unload their remaining items before making the trip back home. It’s also important to start early; aggressive shoppers (aka, YOU) start at daybreak, and you'll beat the post-breakfast rush. The admissions-only area, J&J Mart, opens at 8:00 a.m. on Friday and 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, and is worth the $5 cover price.
Secondly — don’t dress like a fashion blogger. While there are plenty of Instagrammable moments at Brimfield, dressing like an Instagram moment yourself will label you a sucker who might not know when she’s overpaying. So, save your flower crown and ‘90s dresses for another day, and wear something that says you’re actually there for the items rather than the scene (that means dressing way down). If you’re going to be buying clothes, it helps to wear something that you can get in and out of quickly and modestly without a dressing room. For me, that means a tighter camisole that I can try other tops on over, without it looking lumpy, and a wraparound skirt that keep on while I pull on bottoms underneath it. Shoes-wise, wear something comfortable that you can easily clean since the grounds can get dusty and muddy. Wear a bag that lets you go hands-free — for me, that looks like an ugly, utilitarian backpack that holds a surprising amount of stuff. If I’m in real serious go-mode, I have been known to hang hangers off the chest strap while I’m browsing. Inside, pack lots of cash (some places will give you better rates if you pay with cash rather than credit), antibacterial wipes, sunscreen, some water, and emergency toilet paper.
Thirdly — know that some things are just old, and other things are vintage. There are a wide variety of sellers at Brimfield; some are just looking to unload things they’ve been hoarding in their attics, and others who have collected high-yield collectibles. Booths with a Hoarders vibe will be more affordable, and booths with an Anthropologie vibe will be more expensive. Both will have incredible stories about the things they have, but their exceptions about what their things will go for will be wildly different. Don’t insult the collector by grossly undervaluing their product, and don’t make the mistake of shooting too high if you’re with an unloader. Generally, booths closer to the entrance, parking, and big roads will be more expensive.
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Finally — don’t be an asshole. Haggling is expected, but you are not on a game show, so don't be insane. For the most part, the Brimfield vendors I’ve encountered are really sweet, knowledgable people who are trying to find good homes for their things, and aren’t looking to rip you off. UNLESS, of course, you are a jerk to them. I’ve spoken to many people about the best way to haggle, and their advice is as follows:
— Be polite and ask questions.
— The more things you buy, the better the discount.
— Don’t be coy — don’t do that thing where you pretend not to like something. Because many old things are valued based on sentimentality, your emotional connection to something is worth a lot — sometimes, it’s enough for sellers to know that it’s going to a good home.
Watch the video below for a more in-depth look at the above topics, as well as an exploration on the value of old things, a deeper-dive into big business of the secondhand economy, and how I fared in my quest to score some pre-1970s denim.
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