This week marked my first-ever trip to the Brimfield Antique Show, the largest outdoor antique market in the world. With 20-plus fields and thousands of vendors, even a skilled bargain hunter like myself could use help from a veteran to navigate the six-day market. Here are eight tips for scoring deals and shopping outdoor shows like a pro.
Abigail Ruettgers is the owner of Farm & Fable, a vintage cookwares and cookbook shop opening in Boston this summer. A Brimfield regular since 1999, she graciously allowed me to tag along on her buying trip and shared these pro tips, on which I've elaborated:
1. Haggle. Some of you are saying, "duh," and the others are saying, "duh," and then plan on ignoring this advice anyway. I get it: I grew up with my father, a tag sale aficionado who will even try to haggle at retail stores, so I am now borderline allergic to haggling. But this is an antiques market — Haggler Heaven — and practically no vendor expects you to pay sticker price. On Tuesday, I literally had a vendor scold me for NOT haggling with him. So, just do it.
2. Bring cash. This helps with haggling (see #1). Square and other mobile payments mean more vendors are taking cards, but cash is still king.
3. Go early (in the day). Early birds get the worm, and in this case, the worm is the pick of the parking. If you're not there when the fields open at dawn (okay, before 8 if you must sleep in) traffic on Route 20 is a crawl, and most of the lots in the center are already full.
4. Go late (in the week). If you want the best deals, go later in the week. The price listed is rarely the price (again, see #1), but you obviously have more bargaining power on Sunday than you do on Tuesday.
5. Dress simply and comfortably. Stomping through the fields and digging through piles is not the occasion to be super fashionable. If it rained overnight, wear boots. Otherwise, comfortable sneakers will carry you through all the walking. Dress in layers, because May in Massachusetts is no guarantee of warm weather. Aisles can be tight, and things that hang away from your body, like a large bag or open jackets, can easily snag, and potentially bring down a display.
6. Avoid the styled booths. They make for lovely photos and great inspiration, but if a tent looks like it's prepped for a magazine shoot, chances are their merchandise already has a retail markup. That's not to say you won't find anything at the pretty booths; just be aware that prices are probably higher.
7a. Leave your purchases & pick up later. Almost all vendors will let you leave your purchases at their tent so that you can pick them up later. Large pieces can even be left for pickup later in the week, or sometimes shipped. Make a note of which field and what booth your purchases are at, because you will forget. (Booth numbers aren't always useful — write down the color of the tent and landmarks in proximity as added memory triggers.)
7b. Bring a cart. ...Or you can avoid forgetting where you leave stuff, and just bring a cart. Even my pro guide made this mistake, and she ended up buying a cart on the spot from a vendor (well worth its markup halfway through our day, when we were laden down with purchases). Frequent trips to the car really cut down on the hunting time. Plus, you're not going to want to carry that vintage pork ribs barrel all through the fields.
8. You can't do it all. Maybe you want to see it all. Sorry, it's practically impossible. Different fields are open different days and at different times, so unless you're staying in Brimfield for the week or do some really creative scheduling, you will not visit every single vendor showing. It's okay. Have a donut from Faddy's, pace yourself, and enjoy the experience.
Share your tips in the comments!
MORE ANTIQUE MARKET SHOPPING ON APARTMENT THERAPY:
• Antique Shopping: Determining Whether a Price is Fair
• 9 Smart Shopping Tips for Flea Marketing this Summer
• Shopping the Brimfield Antique Show 2012
(Images: Tara Bellucci)