There is a small town in the southwest corner of Central Massachusetts called Brimfield. First settled in 1706, it is a rural town with a population of only 3600. But that figure swells exponentially three times a year for the Brimfield Antique Show, the largest outdoor antique show in New England. The show brings approx 4000 antique dealers to town three times a year transforming the sleepy town into a hustling, bustling tent city for one week in May, one week in July and one week in September each year. The local chamber of commerce estimates that due to these three shows over a half a million people from all over the world visit Brimfield each year.
How did something so huge come to be located in a town so small? The antique show started in 1959 as an outdoor auction held by Gordon Reid. At first it was called the "Auction Acres", starting small with only 67 antique dealers on the Reid property. Due to the Reid's success, the neighbors starting copying the idea, turning their own land into additional antique fields. By the 50th anniversary in 2009, the Brimfield Antique Show had grown to 21 "fields" in a one-mile stretch along Rt. 20 in Brimfield. Each field (also called a show) is managed by a promoter, in most cases, these are the local property owners. Some open shows are open for only one day, and some open for the entire week. There is no central organization -it's 21 individuals working together to pull off this event. The "Show" always starts on a Tuesday and ends on a Saturday. The different fields/shows open at staggered times throughout the week, so be sure to check the schedule carefully. There is usually a mad rush to get into a field/show on when if first opens. The original Reid field , called J&J Promotions, is still one of the most famous, is now operated by Gordon Reid's daughters, Judy and Jill.
Some of the promoters specialize, accepting only certain types of dealers and others accept a wide variety of dealers. Between the 21 fields you may find almost anything. Rugs, lamps, furniture, silverware, jewelry, paintings, glass, china, linens, primitives, hardware and so much more. It's fun to just go browse but if you are looking for something in particular, it pays to educate yourself before you arrive. Easy to do these days with the internet.
Brimfield is an ideal place to browse for hard to find items. Everything from small things such as sterling silver napkin rings and demitasse spoons to large Oriental carpets may be found if you know where to look. Some golden rule of open air markets include 1) shop with cash to get the best deal 2) buy it when you see it -it won't be there later or you will be too tired to go back 3) "buyer beware" -you are the judge of the quality and the value. Be sure to take plenty a backpack, shoulder bag or plenty of shopping bags. Carts come in handy for heavier items. A hat, sunglasses and/or an umbrella may also be found useful. Be ready for the weather to change -- you are in New England. Wear comfortable shows and travel light, you will be walking several miles. You will be tired by the end of the day, but hopefully you will be going home happy with your amazing finds.
If you want to spend a couple of days and really see the show, plan ahead. Lodging is scarce during show weeks, so plan ahead. Both dealers and shoppers stay in hotels, motels and B&B's up to an hour's drive from the show in Worcester, Springfield and even Connecticut. If you are looking for a quiet place to relax at the end of the day, Clamber Hill in Petersham MA is just 30 miles and 35 minutes to the north. One or two Brimfield shoppers stay at Clamber Hill during each show. Innkeepers Mark and Deni have mapped out and personally tested the best way to drive to either end of the show. Best of all, once you arrive at Clamber Hill, you don't have to leave again, you may just relax and the innkeepers will serve you cocktails and dinner right there at the inn. Early breakfasts to start your next shopping day are not a problem if you are headed back for another day of bargain hunting.
There is a heated debate if Brimfield is truly an antique show or just a flea market. It for sure the largest show of its kind in New England and some say in the world. It rates right up there with the antique market in Tongerin, Belgium. Both offer a mixture of everything from high quality antiques to junk. Flea market or antique show, truly does not matter, for shoppers and collectors, the fun is all in the thrill of the hunt. This makes Brimfield an adventure not to be missed!