Article by Caitlin Farrar of Vintage Market in the Mountains
Bethlehem, New Hampshire is a town steeped in history. Suitably named during its incorporation on Christmas Day in 1799, the town has continued on in a festive, outdoorsy spirit ever since.
In the late 19th century, Bethlehem served as a retreat for city dwellers seeking fresh air and unspoiled mountain views during the boiling hot summer months. Grand houses and dazzling carriage parades punctuated the simplicity of life north of the notches for a time. Now, train depots-turned-houses hide down gentle, shady lanes, and the ghosts of grand hotels still glimmer when the alpenglow paints the White Mountains just so.
Since its inception three years ago, Vintage Market in the Mountains has served as a new highlight of Bethlehem’s summer season. This antique event, scheduled for Saturday, July 24th and Sunday, July 25th this year, invites vendors from across the upper Atlantic area to fill a field beside the 180-year-old Wayside Inn. Over the course of two days, visitors and vendors alike find themselves part of a community like no other.
Vintage Market in the Mountains is the kind of place where local singers strum guitars on a hand-built stage, buskers and jugglers roam free, and food trucks peddling street tacos, smoothies, and barbecue, find beautiful harmony alongside a cacophony of vintage vendors. Around one corner, a towering copper tub turned green with age and upended for all to see. Here, hand-painted signs, oversized milk can filled with fresh flowers, and racks of leather vests, calico dresses, and weathered sunhats ready for a new adventure.
At this special summer market, nostalgia is in abundance. Traveling from tent to tent is akin to gently sliding through the past century or two, head dizzy with color, texture, and fragments of memory. Some vendors choose to focus on a favored time period. Others organize by color palette or functionality. There are Big Top-style tents, red and white striped, full of antique industrial items, local artists, and elegant alcoves filled with milk glass and suitcases still bearing stickers from long-gone trips abroad. It’s a visual, transportive feast.
Before the big weekend, vendors will often take a break from setting up their riotously beautiful booths and wander down to the Ammonoosuc River for a quick dip. Even before the event begins, the sense of community is endearingly obvious, with travelers near and far bonded by their shared love for one powerful thing: vintage.
For Sean Gawlik, event organizer of Vintage Market in the Mountains, the “vintage industry is all about connections — connecting with the past, and remembering defining moments, places, and people”. Many of the vendors attending the Vintage Summer Market have been a part of the antique circuit for years, with Gawlik working alongside them, running his own booth in between dreaming up something big right in his own town of Bethlehem — something that would prove irresistible to travelers across the region, highlight his passion for the past, and provide an economic boost to the entire North Country of NH.
As Gawlik reels off statistics, the numbers are staggering. In the USA alone, “vintage markets are a 30 billion dollar-a-year industry”. Furthermore, with the help of events like Vintage Market in the Mountains, over “2.2 million small businesses get to bring their ideas and products to market”. For a small business advocate like Gawlik, the opportunity to bring prosperity to a small mountain town in New Hampshire was one he couldn’t shy away from.
After six years of planning, the first Vintage Market in the Mountains premiered at the Wayside Inn during the summer of 2019. Since that hot July, the event has only grown, even in light of the pandemic.
Rather than shut down for the season and eliminate another opportunity for his vendors to earn during an economically challenging year, Gawlik pushed forward with the second Vintage Market in the Mountains in 2020, with comprehensive pandemic protocols in place. All told, 62 vendors, 7 nonprofit booths, 10 food trucks, and 5 bands made an appearance. The event “sold over 4,100 tickets, gave 500 tickets to essential workers, and provided free admission to the staff and teachers at our local elementary school”.
In an otherwise dismal year, the Vintage Market succeeded in its mission of connecting people with the comfort of the past while also supporting small businesses in the present.
Looking at the whirlwind of last year, and the list of vendors, performers, food trucks, and more slated for this July, it’s easy to feel like two days simply aren’t enough to take it all in. Now, visitors won’t have to choose! After the success of the last two summer shows, Gawlik has set his sights on the other seasons.
Vintage Oddities Market, an ode to all things Halloween, will make its debut at The Wayside Inn this October and features antiques, art, home décor, and more, plus freaks, geeks, and a spooky (yet family-friendly) experience for all ages. Come Christmastime, Gawlik’s Vintage Christmas Market premieres at The Chandler at White Mountains. At this refined outpost, visitors can partake in ice skating, sleigh rides, and vintage gift shopping, which just may serve as the perfect punctuation to a trip up north for Christmas tree cutting and festive envelope stamping at the local post office.
For now, though, it’s time to dream of hazy hot summer days, of toes dipped in mountain rivers, sunburnt arms filled with vintage and handmade treasures, and the fresh memories of newfound friends weaving a past to be savored. We’ll see you at the Vintage Summer Market!
Visit Vintage Market in the Mountains on July 24-25, October 29-31 (at The Wayside Inn, 3738 Main St, Bethlehem, NH 03574) and December 3-4 (venue TBD). Tickets are $5 per person. Children under 12 are free and we are pet friendly. Tickets may be purchased ahead of time at vintagemarketinthemountains.com, or at the gate on event day.
*New England Travel Journal is a partner of the Vintage Market in the Mountains