Hi, this is Josh reporting today from the Patina Operations office. I supervise the warehouse and oversee the quality of our inventory making sure your cushions are stuffed, your rugs are sock-safe, and your over all order is complete. I had the pleasure of joining the team in a huge buying trip up to Brimfield, Massachusetts hunting for new inventory. Following is my recollection of those couple of days.
During the first full week of September, troves of collectors, art dealers, retailers, and casual shoppers caravanned into a mile-long stretch of road in muggy Brimfield Massachusetts. They sardine themselves for hours or days at the Brimfield Antiques Flea Market in hopes of finding real treasures to bring home to show off, to repurpose, or to sell. In a sea of thousands, Patina was a team of five.
For those who’ve never been, three times a year the town of Brimfield transforms into a Mecca of antique vendors. Sellers and traders set up shop under large tents or sprawl out on patches of gravel and grass their reclaimed and fabricated goods, found items, demolition survivors, and classic junk. Everything is hung, laid out, or stacked just waiting that one person to pick it up and take home, or not.
We set for Brimfield the night before opening day in a bright orange car we rented in Brooklyn. The kind of color not many own so I assumed all the rental companies buy them up. This would explain why we kept seeing this screwy shade all over town. We cruised into nearby Southbridge and stayed up late loosing billiard games to Ama’s boyfriend, Edwin. We were too anxious and excited to focus on solids and stripes. Also lost sleep due to the AC in the hotel room set to ~ 40 degrees only to realize the next morning the controls were hiding behind a curtain.
The room window looked out over a dark field leading to a dilapidated foot bridge that disappeared over a quiet river. There was a Stranger Things title card floating above it all, spooky!
Okay, sorry – you want to hear about the market not our hotel, but the larger point is that if you want first dibs at the good stuff you’ll need to make sure you get a good nights’ rest so check your air conditioning.
Keep in mind: the antique fair opens at 6 AM and then if you really get into the Spirit Of The Hunt™ you could be on your feet for hours.
The first thing you need to strategize is parking. Lot signs are scattered through-out the market and range from $7-$10 for the day. I recommend finding one towards the center of it all, maybe scope a map to determine which area your prefer. This allows light shoppers to stash their smaller finds in the car with out having to walk too long a ways, but there are porters who staff the streets helping tow goods. You can find them by their makeshift tee shirts with the word, “Porter” unevenly painted across their chests.
If you’re planning on purchasing larger items like sofas or cabinets, rent a box truck or van. Most vendors are happy to stash your purchases until the end of the day or through the end of the week if it’s not too cumbersome. However, if you do end up leaving something, take down the booth number, name, and contact info of the seller. It is very easy to forget where you bought something. This is good practice even for items you might want to loop back to buy later on. 100 percent of the things I purchased I left behind for the day so I had placed several Patina stickers on the items to let other know to back off.
Haggling is expected and way fun. Not everybody has the confidence, but it just takes some practice *slaps you on your shoulder*. Start 20% below asking price. My first purchase was a pair of rattan swivel chairs. I shrugged at his original offer then said, “sure!”. I couldn’t spot any structural damage and they felt sturdy, so I thought the deal was fair right off the bat. Someone else may have offered way less and got away with it. Anyway, it doesn’t take away from how cool I think they are and we plan on affixing a permanent cushion to the seats and cleaning up the hardware a bit.
Next up was just this small wooden caged chair. I counter offered his asking price at 20% less and he took it. First successful haggle! Nailed it.
Most sellers in Brimfield have backstories to the pieces they offer. It’s worth it to chat them up (some will definitely chat you up) and get some history because it adds to the value of your purchase and gives you a potential selling point if you end up flipping it. Even if you’re not completely interested in the item, or find it downright repulsive, it probably has an incredibly story.
I stayed close to Amalia as we ruffled through piles of wares. It’s best to have two sets of eyes going in, if only to have someone give you that extra push into buying something. There were definitely a couple things I wish someone just hit me on the head said BUY. There’s so much people watching available and don’t think people aren’t going to be scoping out the fly crew outta Bushwick. Seemed like everyone had a compliment for Ama’s outfits each day.
I found myself alone at some point in the way back of this one market where I spotted this tufted bar on wheels. I was hoping the vendor was offering up some custom cocktail. Walking up to him I imagined what kind of special drinks he’d have like one I made up in my head called a “Brimmy” made up of tequila, blackberry, and ginger ale. It’d been 4 or 5 hours of perusing at that point and so a small delusion or two was understandable. But I wasn’t hallucinating this tufted bar. The more you talk to the sellers the better idea you get of how things are priced but I was sure this piece was going to blow my budget out of the water. Fortunately, if not my thirst, my budget fears were quelled and I snagged this guy for a pretty great price. It rolled fine, the faux wood was barely scratched and the tufting was this funky color I couldn’t pass up.
There’s a lot of zig-zagging across the main road. Be wary of oncoming orange rental cars and foot traffic. It’s easy to get trampled over or pushed into the street by a neon bar sign hanging 4 feet off someone’s shoulder. This was our reality as we made our way to the food court. A circus style half moon of various cuisine. There were Italian sausages, sure, there were powdered fried dough, sure, and yes there were pints of Bud Light, but you know what, I felt very very satisfied with a just small cup of hot lobster chowder that was placed in front of me. It reinvigorated my nerves to withstand the next 3+ hours on my feet. It’s a nice place to chat with other shoppers, too. A local music professor noticed the trumpet (I had just bought myself an old trumpet) and he asked me to play some sonata. I had to politely tell him I was actually a French Horn player and then he politely told he was as well. I think there are maybe 4 or 5 French Horn players in America. Later on I had found a trumpet in better condition for the same price but that’s how that goes.
What else.. what else.. I think I was pretty near exhausted around 2pm during our second day of treasure hunting so I was already squinting when I spotted this George Mulhauser plycraft chair. I darted for it and had to cartwheeled over an elderly couple rolling by in electronic wheelchairs under bright red Donald Trump hats. Anyway I got that chair and wore it over my head like an oversized helmut for the next hour.
Much like investing in a china pattern, you may not always find all the pieces to the set but if you like it enough, go for it. This Mulhauser chair has a matching ottoman somewhere and since leaving Brimfield I’ve set out to find it. No luck yet, so email me any tips y’all. Similarly we found three matching kitchen chairs, giving us a fourth to looking forward to finding somewhere else.
We congratulated ourselves at the end of the trip for all our great purchases. However as I started the car to head back to New York I looked out into the grey drizzly sky and couldn’t help think about the fate of those items I passed on or didn’t think to ask the price.