If you are someone who frequents annual outdoor antiques and vintage markets, no doubt you are seeing a shift, like I am, in the age and intent of show-goers and the impact that change is having on what is being sold and who is making money.
Last month I attended the May Brimfield shows, as I have for the last nine years, where the shift was noticeable in all aspects of this 60-plus-year tri-annual marketplace event. The most obvious was the number of young people that turned out (subjectively and observationally defined as under 40), many first-timers attracted by the active social outreach on Instagram and Facebook by dealers, field owners, and media outlets like us that attend, sell at and promote the shows.
Unlike the antique dealers, antiquers, collectors, decorators, and buyers that have historically defined the quality of the Brimfield shows and the authenticity of the goods sold, many of these new, younger show-goers are turning out for what is being hyped as a flea market festival – an experience – complete with an eclectic array of food trucks, fields offering wine and beer bars, and a vintage vibe that celebrates the “greenness” behind resale and upcycle in items that are closer to 50-60 years in age than 100.
My 27-year-old cousin made her first trip to Brimfield for the May shows. While she has grown up with me talking about Brimfield, I doubt she paid much attention and probably tuned out when I started talking about antiques. Not her thing. This year, however, she was intrigued by what she was seeing about Brimfield on social media. As Brimfield Week got closer, the algorithms on her Facebook and Instagram flooded her pages with images, videos, and live feeds from and about the shows and the merchandise to be found. That Saturday morning she dragged her boyfriend on a two-hour drive to experience the “Brimfield Flea” for herself based on the recommendations of the social influencers in her life.
From what I saw that weekend, my cousin was not alone in being swept up in the buzz of Brimfield’s social media. There were visibly and exponentially thousands of younger buyers walking the fields this year, many I would venture to say were first timers judging from their bewilderment at the size and scope of what they thought was just one big show. My cousin spent five hours walking the fields and rummaging through vintage clothing tents in search of nothing in particular. She texted me later, “Could easily spend the full week here. It was great!” However, she spent more on parking and for her food truck lunch than she did on the one item, a vintage T-shirt, she purchased. She came for the “experience” but not with “intent,” which is the economic engine upon which Brimfield was founded. She did, however, also say she wants to come back again.
Brimfield and other large outdoor markets across the country owe their longevity and reputation in the antiques trade to the business that has historically been conducted on the fields between buyers and sellers. While a younger demographic drawn in by digital marketing and social media attracts a healthy infusion of new opportunities for well-established shows but as one show promoter put it, “Yes, there were a lot more young people here this show but they weren’t necessarily buying.” These freshman show-goers came to experience the “Brimfield Flea” as an event, not shop the Brimfield Antiques & Collectibles Show.
To attract these younger buyers not necessarily interested in buying antiques and adding to their collections, new types of vendors are being added to some show fields that are more in line with what these younger shoppers are looking for. Tents featuring vintage clothing, rock memorabilia, Asian imports, art glass, local cannabis dispensaries, up-cycled furniture, and crafts pieces are now side-by-side on some fields with long-established vendors of authentic antiques, china, fine art, silver, and decorative objects, in Brimfield’s long-standing tradition of offering “something for everyone.”
Hopefully, the exposure to a show such as Brimfield and a fun, positive experience brings these younger buyers back, like my cousin, but this time to shop with more intent (read: spend more money).