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York Fair wants a 250th birthday present: Nice weather

Written by Gary Haber, York Daily News | Sep 5, 2015 7:00 AM
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From left, Nevin Weirich of East Manchester Township, Jeff McLaughlin of West York and Bob Speck of Dover paint display shelves and cases in the Old Main building at the York Expo Center on Wednesday in preparation for the 2015 York Fair. The York Fair celebrates its 250th anniversary this year. (Kate Penn -- Daily Record/Sunday News)

(Undated) -- Enver Bilajac remembers his older sister taking him to the York Fair when he was a kid.

Bilajac, 24, an online marketing specialist for an area nonprofit, has fond memories of the cheese steaks, the lights and the carnival rides his parents wouldn't let him ride.

This month, after a nine-year absence, the York city resident is planning to take in the York Fair again as it turns 250 years old. "It's nostalgia," he said. "I want to experience it again."

York Fair officials are hoping to see more folks like Bilajac turn out for this year's edition of the fair, which starts Sept. 11 and runs through Sept. 20.

The York Fair, first held in 1765, is perennially among the 50 largest in the U.S. in terms of attendance, according to CarnivalWarehouse.com, an industry publication. It ranked 33rd on the publication's 2014 list with attendance of 518,641.

"If you're in the top 50, you're in pretty rarefied air," said Ron Weber, CarnivalWarehouse.com's editor.

At most fairs around the country, the attendance is less than 100,000, Weber said. The Texas State Fair in Dallas was the nation's largest in 2014 with attendance of more than 2.8 million people.

The York Fair, which operates on a $3 million budget, generates about $30 million a year in economic impact, said Mike Froehlich, general manager of the York Fair and York Expo Center.

"It's a tremendous economic engine," Froehlich said.

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Games are a big part of what attracts people to the York Fair. Here are some of the games at the 2014 fair, which had attendance of 518,641 people. (File, York Daily Record)

Weather dependent

This year's York Fair opens against a backdrop of declining attendance the past two years. Last year's attendance was down 11.8 percent from 2013, the lowest level since 2008 when Tropical Storm Hanna ate into attendance. The attendance in 2013 of 587,866 people was down 8.5 percent from 642,363 in 2012.

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"If we have good weather, we're going to have a successful fair," said Mike Froehlich, general manager of the York Fair and York Expo Center. (Kate Penn -- Daily Record/Sunday News)

Froehlich attributed the recent attendance drop to bad weather each of the past two years. Last year, it rained on each of the fair's two Saturdays, he said.

It's not just York County where fair officials keep an eye on the skies and the thermometer.

"The three most important things to remember about fairs are weather, weather, weather," said Jim Tucker, president and CEO of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, a trade group.

At a time when kids spend much of their time online, and both parents are working, fairs like the York Fair offer a chance for families to unplug and spend time sharing the kind of authentic experience you can't get from a video game, supporters say.

"I think they just touch a spot in our society," Tucker said.

And as more people want to know where the food they eat comes from consider the growing popularity of organic foods and farm-to-table restaurants fairs that emphasize agriculture, like the York Fair, give people what may be their only chance to see livestock up close.

"We're kind of the caretakers of something quite wonderful," said Bonnie Brosious, marketing director for The Great Allentown Fair.

Beth Gross has been going to the York Fair for 45 years. She said the fair's animal attractions are among her favorite features.

Gross, 58, of Manchester Township, attends so many sessions -- she went nine out of 10 days last year -- her friends call her "the Fair lady".

While York Fair officials held the line on admission prices and parking this year, some folks feel prices are too high for a family. The fair shouldn't charge for both parking and admission, said Debbie Doughty, of Springettsbury Township.

"One price should get you into everything," said Doughty, who said the fair has become an annual event for her and her family since they moved to York County from Long Island. If the cost was less, Doughty and her family would go more often, she said.

Keeping the fair fresh

One thing successful fairs do is add new rides, attractions and entertainment while holding on to old favorites.

"The same act you booked 20 years ago, may not be popular today," said Weber, CarnivalWarehouse.com's editor.

This year, York Fair has added a number of attractions fair officials expect will help drive attendance. The TNA Wrestling show will return after an absence of several years. Fair officials are bringing in the Marvelous Mutts dog show, in which acrobatic dogs catch frisbees and dive off a dock into water.

They're installing a display of photos of memorabilia in Memorial Hall that will trace the fair's 250-year history. The Royal Hanneford Circus that was held in Memorial Hall in previous years will be held under the big top to be set up near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

And this year's fair will conclude with fireworks and a country music concert by "American Idol" contestant Lauren Alaina.

And fair officials are also getting more high-tech. York Fair is turning to social media to help attract more first-time visitors.

That includes the large number of transplants who have moved to southern York County from Maryland, said Froehlich, the general manager.

"If we can get them here one time, we'll get them back," he said.

One thing Froehlich won't predict is whether this year's fair attendance will top that of last year.

"If we have good weather, we're going to have a successful fair," he said.

If you go

What: 250th York Fair

When: Sept. 11 to Sept. 20. Gates open at noon on Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Where: York Expo Center, 334 Carlisle Ave., West Manchester Township Admission: $8 for those over 18, $4 for ages 6-18 and college students with ID. Free for children 5 and younger. Several days feature free or reduced-price admission. A fair-long pass costs $75 and includes parking and daily admission for one person.

Parking: $7

For more information: www.yorkfair.com


Fair attendance

York Fair attendance over the years:

2008 508,887

2009 559,965

2010 609,319

2011 567,052

2012 642,363

2013 587,866

2014 518,641

Source; York Fair

Related 

· 5 things to know about the 2015 York Fair
· 2015 York Fair Queen crowned
· York Fair 250: Big parade, big top circus part of big anniversary plans
· York Fair milestones through the years
· Alabama will return to the York Fair in 2015

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Fred Hake of Manchester cleans quilt racks in the Old Main building at the York Expo Center on Wednesday in preparation for the 2015 York Fair. The fair starts Sept. 11 and runs through Sept. 20. (Kate Penn -- Daily Record/Sunday News)


This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF. 

Published in News, York

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