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Thrifting, if you pare it down to its barest bones, is the pursuit of surprise. Who knows what treasures you'll turn up at any given flea or antique market—a gnarly old cutting board to spruce up and serve cheeses on? a dainty figurine that needs to sit in that last open space on your shelves? myriad colorful glass bottles? a chair you take ages to fix up but promise you will, soon?—and that's the fun of going in the first place.
But since the flea we're heading to this weekend is Brimfield, one of the largest antique fairs anywhere, we thought a little prep list might be in order. (Surprise finds can be exciting, but only if you're prepared to find them, pay for them, and lug them home—according to the preordained but not-widely-communicated realities of the flea.) And so, here are 8 things to know before you go to Brimfield.
The point is not to get stuff for a steal.
Arriving at a field's opening at 6 A.M. might give you a leg up on finding a deal, just by the sheer volume of inventory and the pace at which things will be moving at that time of day, but that isn't guaranteed. The beauty of Brimfield isn't that everything's available for a steal—the vendors are smart business folk, and their prices are largely fair (and often negotiable)—the point is that you're shopping in a place with endless inventory to peruse and pounce upon.
So don't go to Brimfield expecting to furnish your whole apartment on a budget. Go aiming to find a few special pieces you can have forever (which you wouldn't likely have been able to find anywhere else). And don't forget to haggle!
Many of the fields have planned openings. Plan to go them!
The dozen-plus "fields" at Brimfield, each with hundreds of vendors lining their walks, unfurl along both sides of a mile-long stretch of Route 20. Every field is individually owned, which means they play by their own rules: Some are open all hours of the Tuesday-through-Sunday fair, while others sound the bell and open the gates at specific hours on certain days.
One of the best tips we've learned after attending a few fairs at Brimfield is that these openings are worth arriving on time to—that's when the best pieces are put out, deals are most likely are to be had, and also the reason that the crowds will descend. Brave them.
We've catalogued some of our favorite openings in this handy map, so you can be there for the frenzy:
It's worth staying overnight...
Thrifting at Brimfield means doing so out in the heat of the day (there are only a handful of sections that have shady tree cover), which can tire a body out fast. Even if you do go hard all day long, you won't be able to see all of Brimfield and shop thoughtfully.
Staying the night and going a second day (or more!) will not only take the pressure off, and therefore make your time more relaxing; you'll be able to attend more of the fair over a longer amount of time, at a more reasonable pace, returning to see pieces you passed on the first time and shopping a whole new selection that emerges overnight. Bottom line: There's so much to see! Give yourself time to do it!
...even if you stay 45 minutes away.
Rooms book up in the near vicinity to Brimfield as far as a year in advance. But if you're just now planning your trip for next week's market, take heart: At the time of this post publishing, we spotted some rooms still available on Airbnb and Hotel Tonight in Sturbridge, Worcester, and Springfield.
The key is to look at towns between 30 minutes and an hour outside of the immediate Brimfield city limits—being even that close to the market will make all the difference when you're waking up early to make an opening (and will actually put you an bit outside of the fray when you start to make your journey home).
Cash is king.
Yes, there are a few ATMs—but you'd be silly to come all this way without any cash! Most vendors are selling right out of the trucks they arrived in; it's unlikely that you'll have the option to use a credit card or a check at all. (And the last time I tried to use an ATM at Brimfield it was all out of cash!)
The weekend is a total bonanza.
Meaning, some of the fields "reopen" with tons of fresh inventory, prices will be slashed on wares that have lasted all weekend, and tons of visitors will be arriving in droves. It's an especially fun time to be at Brimfield (I've even heard costumes come out, festival-style), but with all the good madness comes crowds—and traffic. If you're going for the weekend, factor in a few extra hours of travel!
You won't get great cell phone service.
I'm not sure whether this is because Brimfield is a little bit in the middle of nowhere, or because there are so many people suddenly in town for the fair, all vying for a signal, but it's true. Best advice: Embrace it!
Bring walkie-talkies if you're dead-set on not getting lost from your friends (though I've found that it's nice to get away on your own for a little while, adventurer-style, and link up for slushie lemonades at Del's later). Take a camera instead of relying on your phone, so you can obsess over the pretty things you found (and still might buy!).
Planning will only get you so far.
Attention Type-A-ers: Brimfield is the land of more-than-plenty—thousands of vendors spilling out over a mile of road, millions (upon millions) of pieces to sort through, and only your instincts to guide you. Accept that you'll never be able to do it all, which just means you'll need to come back next season, too.
We're setting up shop for the Food52 Lawn Party at Brimfield, which will be open Tuesday through Sunday of this coming week. See you there?