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Bargaining the Brimfield Way

Behind The Scenes at Brimfield, The Largest Outdoor Antiques and Collectibles Market in the United States
Melissa Milgrom
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 6)

"IS THIS STEUBEN?" she repeats. She is loud and firm.

"Yes! I thought I said 'yes,' " Arthur responds testily.

"Well, I didn't hear you," she softens.

"My head doesn't make too much noise when I shake it," he says.

Two gold-capped bottom teeth bespeak Donn Antonia's expertise--precious metals and gemstones. Antonia is a jewelry dealer from Sheldon, Massachusetts, who has sold at Brimfield for 20 years. His five o'clock shadow is six hours early. A pair of lookers admire Donn's jewelry, commenting on a gold sailfish pin they especially like. Donn cries out, "Everything I sell is pretty! I am pretty!" The women then admire a diamond ring. "I worked like hell for that," he tells them. "Was singing in the street after that one." Behind each piece is a story. Donn rouses another loiterer who drifts past his booth: "I want your money! Whatever you have for money, I want! I know you're getting tired--it's the end of the week. But you've got to get rid of your money. You don't need it."

Most of the serious money at Brimfield is earned by selling to other dealers, usually within the first two hours of each show. Deal-ers expect this, and begin to unwind by late afternoon. Brimfield at night, with its RVs and Coleman lanterns, resembles a campground. Tarps are flung over piles of antiques to store them overnight. Buoyed with adrenaline that compensates for a lack of sleep, pockets stuffed with wads of $100 bills, the dealers' foremost thoughts are of food and drink. Several restaurants are popular, such as Rom's in Sturbridge and the Woodbine Coffee Shop on the Brimfield Common, where dealers talk about everything from Manhattan's 26th Street Flea Market to high-tech stereos.

For the dealers who stay afield, out come the coolers, the barbecue grills and the canned folk music. With many friendships formed from seasonal meetings at Brimfield, dealers party in circles. Some cluster in outdoor antique living rooms composed of unsold merchandise; under the stars, they resemble anachronistic stage sets. Others sit and smoke cigars in folding chairs or at portable picnic tables near their RVs. Wherever the dealers choose to rest, two things will pass--dealer stories and beer. Dealer stories are a mixture of bragging, gossip and downright lies. Brimfield comes alive in these raw, slang-filled tales. Mainly, the dealers gloat about their best sales or fume about impossible customers. Rumors circulate about the other antiques shows in town and about Brimfield itself. Which show has the best rush? Which show is the most lucrative? Which promoters are most sympathetic to dealers? Finally, the dealers share their expertise.

Brimfield is a spectacle, but one where the interaction between merchant and customer is direct and less predictable, the goods finite, the transactions in cash and the language inventive. Drained, the dealers anticipate packing up and heading home. Many will sleep in their trucks on the market grounds. Night falls and the pace slows. For a few hours the fields become still, a reminder that you are in a dark, wooded valley.

Melissa Milgrom has written for Travel & Leisure and other national magazines. Bargaining: The Bottom Bottom

Once you get the hang of it, haggling for a deal is the fun part of the flea market experience. So don't be shy. Dealers aren't called dealers for nothing. Just remember they've heard every line before, so hold back before you tell them what's in grandma's attic, and don't rattle on about what an item cost in 1973. Try to stick to the straightforward approach. Here are some tips:


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