The company began in 1974, when Don Wirfs started a monthly Sunday antique flea market at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. Christine Palmer was one of his dealers on Sundays, and worked as his office manager during the week. Looking for a site for a two day show, Don launched the Portland Expo Show in October 1981. Called America’s Largest Antique & Collectible Show, that first show was a surprise, drawing more than 7,000 people. The show held about 300 booths and included a gypsy fortune teller and a truckload of auto parts among other items.
By March 1982 for the second show at the Expo Center, things had changed: gone were the fortune teller and car parts and in their place, an all vintage show came to life. Thirty-some years ago the concept of an event where a customer could see a large quantity of antiques & collectibles under one roof was still in its infancy.
Christine Palmer’s husband Chuck came aboard in 1991 and Don retired in 1992, selling the company to Christine and prompting the name change to Palmer/Wirfs & Associates. Don remains an exhibitor at the three Portland Expo Shows with his vintage children’s books.
The one show at the Expo Center evolved into three per year and remains that way today. The Expo Shows are still considered the company’s flagship events and are the largest on the schedule. The March and October shows are at 1,000 booths and the gargantuan summer show in July holds 1,300 booths by adding 300 outside booths.
In addition to the shows at the Portland Expo Center, two more are produced at the Puyallup Fairgrounds ShowPlex Building in Washington, making it the largest show in the Puget Sound plus an annual show at the Clark County Fairgrounds near Vancouver, Wa. These shows average 300 booths each and carry the same type of inventory.
All of the Palmer/Wirfs shows are a diverse hunting ground and include fine antiques and collectibles up to 1970. The show does not allow any type of flea market booths or garage sale items. A typical stroll down the aisle will show, among other things, slot machines, elegant glass, primitives, furniture, vintage trunks, movie memorabilia, Western Americana, kitchenware, estate jewelry, textiles, original prints, paintings, militaria, advertising, still and mechanical banks, costume jewelry and of course toys from the 1880s to the 1970s. In a nutshell, attractive things that haven’t been made since the 1970s.
Throughout the more than thirty years in business, Palmer/Wirfs & Associates has maintained one goal: To bring buyers and sellers together. The company prides itself on accomplishing that by creatively spending whatever amount it takes to make that possible including making use of new technology and ensuring that the exhibitors are successful. We feel that a busy show isn’t necessarily a mark of success unless the exhibitors find the right homes for their inventory.
The company’s secondary goal is to make participating in a Palmer/Wirfs show to be a pleasant experience, with every contingency taken care of to ensure the show goes smoothly for the exhibitor.