Irena Kaci

Summer in the city has many dimensions to it. Some people like to find a nice watering hole, shout out to Worcester’s many ponds and lakes, while others might prefer a rounding up of all the best ice cream spots for gustatory relief. For those of us who favor an open air market, this is for your benefit. Central Massachusetts is a treasure trove of cool places to go looking for treasure. 

Brimfield Antique Flea Market has been around since 1969, which means next year it’ll be turning 55. I caught up with Brimfield’s current show-runners Klia Vervidis Crisafully and Arthur Crisafully to learn more about the history and the present day offerings. Arthur Crisafully shares the most pertinent and concrete information before handing the phone over to his partner. “Our shows happen 3 times a year, and our next one opens on Wednesday July 10th, at noon and goes until Sunday. We have hundreds of vendors, all different vintage and antique vendors, handmade up-cycled New England made products. We invited a bunch of food trucks.”

Klia Vervidis Crisafully walks me through the history of the market: “The overall flea market in 1969 and it basically it started with one show and now it’s home to over twenty shows that run all the same week. And now on that show we have a whole bunch of special events that we have throughout the week. A live public auction on Thursday on July 11th and then we have a Mardi Gras on July 12th and on a Saturday night we do a be mixed Open Mic night and show us what they got for talent. Give them 5 minutes of Brimfield fame. We have so many fun events that go on throughout the week that keeps coming back day after day.”

The Crisafullys began as vendors themselves with the Brimfield show about fifteen years ago, before finally purchasing the business in 2020. Each hailing from the East Coast, the Brimfield power couple splits their time between Boston, where they work and New Hampshire, where they have come to reside. “Both my husband and I are auctioneers and that’s how we came into the business. We’ve been in it since the early 90s, so a long time ago.”

Popular and renowned as the show is, the Crisafullys have certainly had an impact on the business model. “The crowds have been getting bigger since we bought the show in 2020. Every year the crowd seems to be getting bigger. We’ve also expanded the scope of the show and taken it on the road. We call it ‘The Traveling Show’ and we have them in new Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and soon we’ll be heading to New York. We bring a smaller version to the new show to different places to introduce them to the show.

It is no surprise that they are seeing such resounding success, given that this is truly a work of passion and personal commitment. The Crisafullys have always enjoyed collecting carnival and fair treasures for themselves almost as much as they enjoy managing the Brimfield show. “We have a lot of vintage circus tents. We love old circus and carnival artifacts but we usually go for the big things, like a big a piece of a ride, or a carousel horse, or a big paper fifteen foot tall paper mache figure from the 1939  World’s Fair. That’s a real prized possession.”

But Brimfield is not the only game in town. Worcester proper has its own Flea Market on Quinsigamond Street, open every Saturday. 

The Grafton Flea Market is also a seasonal wonder to behold. Open from April-December, 6am-4pm every Sunday, it is a comprehensive excursion. Anyone looking to dabble in some thrifting, antiquing or just plain ‘windowless’ shopping, would do well to plan a trip. The space allows for both indoor and outdoor shopping, with vendors ranging from jewelry, to records, to candy or tools. It is truly a knicknacker’s paradise. The eatery on the premises offers standards American fare favorites, such as burgers, hot dogs, and buttered popcorn. The Flea Market also supports local artists by establishing a venue where their wares can be displayed and sold. Local artists and artisans are always welcome to rent any of the available booths all season long. 

Not to be outdone, however, there’s also Marier-Palmer’s Antique Flea Market, out in Palmer MA. Recently acquired by current show-runners Kris and Jack Dunn, Marier-Palmer’s has been around for fifty years. The Dunns have been involved in antiquing and thrift sales for more of their working lives. “I’ve always been in the antique business; I was just looking for something new to do. When this opportunity came across our path last year, I just jumped on it.” 

Kris Dunn has always been interested in antique markets and sales. “Since I was 18 years old I’ve always been interested. We run our show –they’re called shows – 3 times a year. We are open from Tuesday to Monday. Our next show is the week before Brimfield, so July 4th through July 11th, from 7am to 3 pm. You can imagine we get many Brimfielders coming our way as they wait for the Brimfield show.” 

Originally from the North Shore, Kris and Jack Dunn are new to the area and still learning the ropes of Central Massachusetts. Kris has been involved in second hand or treasure hunting her entire adult life. “I owned a thrift shop for twenty-something years before I ended up closing down and moving my business to an antique mall. I was running it there for quite some time and then the chance to buy up Marier-Palmer’s came up and I had to have it. My husband is so supportive and involved too. Jack is a retired ironworker out of Boston, and we met at an antique auction. We just share the interest.”

Marier-Palmer’s features true antiques, industrial items, up-cycled treasures, and overall unique stuff. “We are basically keeping it exactly as it was, at least for now. People don’t like change and this seems to be running just fine the way that it is. Maybe someday we will see fit to change something, but not right now.” Despite her life’s work, Kris doesn’t consider herself a collector of any sort. “I’m drawn to anything that could’ve come from my grandmother’s house. I go ‘oh look at that, so cute etc.’ but I’m not a materialistic person. I really don’t collect these things for myself. I like selling them to people who will cherish them.”

Bryan Jackson Jr., a Worcester native has been collecting antiques and working with vintage finds for over thirty years. When the opportunity came to start his own antiquing business, he was primed to succeed. “I was going to all the antique shows and doing all that for thirty years. I was really ready to just stop running around and just create my own spot. I weighed all the options and Millbury was kind of the most bang for my buck, in terms of options.” In 2015, Jackson Jr. opened his multi faceted antique-vintage business “Live Flea or Buy”. The moniker is hardly comprehensive when it comes to the many facets of the business. “We are a hybrid store. We do estate sales, we do closings, we do buying and selling, we do junk removal; we kind of do it all. We’re like a one stop shop, in terms of what we offer. If you have a space that you need cleared out or emptied or managed in this way, we can get that done.” 

More recently, “Live Flea or Buy” has been expanding their scope into the film industry, thanks to Massachusetts laws that incentivize filmmakers to work in our state. “I get emails daily from set designers or interior designers sending over their ‘wish lists’ for whatever materials they might need. Sometimes it’s for a movie or a set of some sort. Sometimes it’s just for someone designing their home. We get these kinds of requests almost daily, so it seems that demand is growing for what I do. And, you know, we’re a pretty small operation, I have my manager and an accountant and of course my laborers, but it’s a tight team. We are open 7 days a week too, which is pretty rare for my line of work. Most antique shops will stay closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.” 

Central Massachusetts is full of old-world charm, and nothing showcases that better than flea markets and antique shops, run primarily by retired treasure hunters who revel in days passed. Unlike many other retail businesses, antiquing seems incredibly personal, maybe because all the items have belonged to someone before and carry with them a kind of imprinted history. Maybe because everyone with whom I spoke about their flea market shows, or antiquing business, betrayed an intense personal connection with the work, a kind of passion that I am more used to seeing in artistic pursuits. Either way, visiting Brimfield, or its ilk is so much more than shopping- it is a cultural pursuit.