The cancellation of so many events in 2020 has been a challenge for everyone in the design community, particularly for the vintage and antiques dealers who show at different markets throughout the year. The Brimfield Antique Flea Markets are sadly no exception, with the spring and summer dates cancelled. That leaves the many dealers and shops who normally show at the storied event without one of their mainstay moments in the calendar year.
To get a sense of how dealers have been contending with these unfortunate cancellations and selling virtually, we spoke with three Brimfield mainstays: David Arenson of Atomic Flat, Hannah Khachadourian (part of the husband-and-wife duo behind The Modern Exchange), and John De Giacomo of Chatsworth Antiques. See what they had to say about the changes dealers are facing and how they’re pivoting without live events.
And to see a shoppable directory of dealers from the Brimfield community, either click here or scroll to the bottom of this article.
How have you and the other members of the Brimfield community been working to survive the ongoing crisis? What are you doing to work around the cancellation of the fairs?
David Arenson: Different dealers work in wildly different ways regarding this, but as a whole it really seems that dealers are trying to go online to make up the gap from the shows. A lot of dealers also have brick and mortar stores, which are obviously closed as well. Those dealers tended to start using online platforms like Chairish to move items directly from their closed shops, and those of us who had already been selling online have really attempted to ramp up inventory.
Hannah Khachadourian: Brimfield is certainly the highlight of our business year as we accumulate new inventory for our regular designers and clients. Having the shows closed has propelled us to increase our offering on Chairish. We are so grateful to have the platform to continue our connection with the design world. Additionally, we were scheduled to open our first brick and mortar in Hudson, New York, when the pandemic hit. We have been hustling to style, prepare, and hope that a storefront will help offset the loss of Brimfield through the summer months
John De Giacomo: Having recently been in a retail shop for the last 85 years, we never really relied on the shows for sales. We are located dead center between Greenwich and Manhattan. To be honest, when I went to the shows, I had to drastically lower my prices to compensate for the location. I would actually go shopping weeks before a show just to have items to sell up there. I did it more for the friendships I have made rather than the fact of selling.
Have you had more clients shopping virtually while social distancing continues as the norm? Do you have any tips for clients or designers who are dealing with working this way?
David Arenson: My online sales from Chairish and other platforms have gone up by approximately 400% since the lockdowns started. As I’ve had more time to dedicate to adding inventory online and managing markdowns more effectively, I’ve really seen a big increase in sales. My biggest tip to customers and designers during this time is if there’s something you’ve had your eye on recently, make an offer on it — most dealers are happy to move merchandise at a discount, especially when they’re already “on a roll.”
Hannah Khachadourian: We did experience a lull as the pandemic first hit and everyone was processing. However, I do feel that after everyone has been hunkered down in their homes, they’re ready to redecorate and begin virtually shopping again! Customers are ready to take the plunge on that big piece of furniture or that new piece of art to subtly refresh a space. We are always thinking of creative ways to incentivize our customers — ensuring contactless delivery, free delivery for qualifying purchases, and customization options including reupholstery and refinishing.
John De Giacomo: Our online sales pretty much doubled during this time. We did a drastic markdown to help move pieces for our transition to online only. That may have helped a bit, though we did also sell a few higher-end pieces during this time.
My biggest tip to customers and designers during this time is if there’s something you’ve had your eye on recently, make an offer on it — most dealers are happy to move merchandise at a discount, especially when they’re already “on a roll.”David Arenson
How has the coronavirus crisis affected inventory management? How has it been managing your shipments?
David Arenson: I can’t speak for anyone else on this topic, but we personally have a 5,000-square-foot warehouse that we operate out of. Everything comes into the warehouse, goes through an inspection where its needs get evaluated, gets either cleaned in house or sent out for refurbishing if needed, and then photographed and stored away on our racking. When something gets purchased it’s pulled, checked for anything that may have occurred during storage, and sent to a local packing company for shipment. Streamlining a process like this is what allows us to handle so much merchandise, and it’s a process that very few dealers have, unfortunately.
Hannah Khachadourian: With the cancellation of shows and events, it has been difficult sourcing these past few months. We handpick each item and appreciate seeing everything in person. So many small businesses were affected by the crisis — our slowdown affected our refinishers, reupholsterers, etc. We are excited to see things reopening.
John De Giacomo: Not a lot of people are selling right now, but I feel that once this thing lets up, people who have been home for months and are just sick and tired of an old dining room set will be looking to sell or buy and upgrade.
What’s something you’d want designers and other clients to know about how the community is weathering the storm?
David Arenson: I think it’s important for customers and designers to know that we as a community are really working as hard as we can to put our inventory out there, by way of these ecommerce sites and virtual flea markets and virtual Brimfield events that have popped up as of late. And we really appreciate them working with us during this unusual time as we learn how to best accommodate their needs. Our goal at the end of the day is to provide products that customers and designers are looking for, so knowing how best to reach them is great knowledge to have.
Hannah Khachadourian: I’m not going to sugarcoat it: The cancellation of Brimfield has vastly affected our business and so many other businesses. We’re doing our best to keep our heads up, stay positive, and continue to provide our clients and designers with the best merchandise and customer service possible.
John De Giacomo: There are tons of items out there and I think this business will be booming again once things level off back to the new normal. Especially upcycled and repurposed pieces.
There are tons of items out there and I think this business will be booming again once things level off back to the new normal. Especially upcycled and repurposed pieces.John De Giacomo
What trends are you seeing right now in terms of the types of pieces clients are looking for? Has that changed given what we’ve been going through?
David Arenson: I’ve seen a general uptick across pretty much all areas. Furniture and home decor have been selling very well, as has art, so I don’t know that I’ve seen much of a difference in styles… mostly just a change in volume. Dining tables and desks do seem to be selling quicker as well; I don’t know if that’s in relation to the number of people now working from home, but that would stand to reason.
Hannah Khachadourian: I feel like now, more than ever, people are wanting to create a home that they love. My clients are seeing how their spaces are working, or not working, and are ready to invest in lasting pieces that increase functionality and elevate warmth. Some of the trends I’m noticing are staples such as desks, dining chairs, dining tables, and sofas.
John De Giacomo: Not so much, to be honest. I don’t think what is happening outside the house affects what people want inside the house.
I feel like now, more than ever, people are wanting to create a home that they love. My clients are seeing how their spaces are working, or not working, and are ready to invest in lasting pieces that increase functionality and elevate warmth.Hannah Khachadourian
Do you think the current situation will have a lasting effect on the way people shop for vintage and antique pieces?
David Arenson: I truly believe that this event has started a fundamental shift in how people are going to shop for antiques and design. It’s a far more efficient system than going to shows and flea markets, and you can do it all from the comfort and safety of your home. As people get more comfortable with the idea of buying large items online I think we’ll continue to see an increase in furniture sales across the board. The Chairish money-back guarantees are also a huge part of this, I believe — it’s important for the customer to feel they have some recourse in the event that what arrives isn’t as promised, and platforms like this really alleviate those concerns.
Hannah Khachadourian: Definitely. I’m noticing my clients are thinking longer and harder about how they spend their money and are looking for pieces that fit their lifestyle for the long term.
John De Giacomo: Not necessarily just antiques, but everything. Social distancing is something that most likely will not go away anytime soon. I bet that many people who have been working from home will try to find a way to continue doing that to some extent. Sitting in front of a computer while working and having an online shopping page like Chairish open is something I can see happening a ton.
Lead image by Tessa Neustadt