Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Big E 100 Years: A Shopping Expo for Shopaholics

In advance of The Big E's Centennial Season, New England Fall Events treats you to a taste of what this classic New England festival has in store for you and your family. Each of our posts leading up to their 100th year will feature a different section of the The Big E experience but if you want the whole enchilada at once, click to read our article "New England Fall Events' Complete Guide to The Big E."
Shopping Shopping Shopping
The Big E is also an expo for shopping. If you are a shopaholic, tchotchke-lover, or a sucker for infomercials and as-seen-on-TV goodies, this just may be your Mecca. The Young Building and The Better Living Center house a combined 178,000 square feet of retail booths inside their massive airplane hangar-sized buildings. Any household, clothing, wearable, buyable item you could ever imagine (and many you couldn’t) is for sale and collectively fill over 150 vendor booths. For us this was the least intriguing part of our Big E adventure and the vendors do not have any discernible hand-crafted requirement or New England connection. 

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Endless opportunities to shop from retail vendors at The Big E. L to R: Local wine, pots and pans, aqua massage "lung".

The sheer volume of booths can be as overwhelming in numbers as it may be, for us, underwhelming in appeal but we readily admit we aren’t avowed shopaholics. I don’t know how many people attend The Big E to purchase giant, iron-lung-like, aqua massage capsules, reclining chairs, home security systems, emoji pillows, or barn cupolas but you’ll find them here along with color-changing pots and pans, flagpoles, and a talent agency. Though we did spot the occasional hand-crafted quilt stall or Shark Tank-worthy invention, we were more likely to be accosted by Comcast trying to get us to sign up for a cable package or by someone selling hot water bottles and lucky bamboo.

If you do purchase anything of physical size within these buildings, many vendors will offer to hold your purchased goods at their booth for you to pick up later so you won’t need to lug your new extendable broom or bottle lamp around the fairgrounds all day—all in all, a welcome and important perk.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Shopping Expo_Critter Gear_Magic Sceptre
L to R: ME's Prospect Harbor Soap Company, RI's The Magic Sceptre children's book, NH's Critter Gear.

Not confined to the Young Building and Better Living Center, fair-goers will also find nearly 100 more exterior commercial vendors and large exhibits across the fairgrounds. Large areas were set aside for gazebos, landscapers, barn-builders, hot tub displays, and military recruitment kiosks. Outdoors vendor stalls were populated with cooking knife demos, basement finishers, bed sheet discounters, wrench sets, and evangelical children’s education. There seems nothing too random for someone to sell or exhibit and every eight feet there is an opportunity to purchase something. Again, an early holiday- shopper’s paradise because there is something to fit every personal style imaginable.

Although there are plenty of people buying items from the many vendors, it should be said that considering how much acreage there is to cover on foot and how crowded the fairgrounds can get, anything we considered buying was met with the sobering reality that whatever we acquired we would need to be carried around for hours—a real disincentive. Hm, maybe we don’t need that fancy car wax as badly as we thought…

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Shopping Expo_Wine and Cheese Barn
L to R: Find local wine and cheese in the Wine & Cheese Barn; buy a gazebo or jacuzzi at the fairgrounds.

As we mentioned in our Avenue of the States building section, inside the state buildings you actually will find crafts, local artisans, small businesses, native food, and manufactured items that are specific and relevant to that New England state. With The Big E functioning as New England’s regional fair, we found the local context for the items the vendors sold within the state buildings both more interesting and frankly more meaningful. We saw many goodies within the state buildings that we wanted to buy (and eat) and remarkably few that caught our eye in the larger vendor warehouses.To be fair, we didn’t attend The Big with shopping high on our to-do list so others may feel quite differently.

The food and goodies for sale in the state buildings appealed to our New England pride and reinforced our appreciation for our local economy and agriculture. Coupled with the charm of the buildings themselves, shopping or browsing in the state buildings was satisfying for us as we were meeting people rooted in New England small business, farming, or manufacturing community.

Ready for more? Read our Complete Guide to New England's The Big E!

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