Morning Read: Are county fairs still a good investment for the North Country?

Is the sun setting on the North Country’s tradition of county fairs? Photo of Essex County’s fairground in Westport courtesy of Susan Waters.

It’s a big tradition this time of year:  harness racing, cotton candy, smash-up derbies, tractor pulls.  But some local government leaders are questioning whether county fairs are still worth the time, money and hassle.

Warren County has been struggling to sell its old fairground in Warrensburg.  And after a lackluster event this summer, Essex County offiials are also debating the future of the annual event in Westport.  This from Denton Publications.

“I am under the impression that it was not a successful fair,” [North Elba town supervisor Roby] Politi said. “I just wonder whether the county fair is feasible with what is going on financially today.”

I’ll admit that I have kind of a soft spot for these events.  But if counties can’t afford nursing homes for their seniors, maybe they can’t afford to maintain big fair grounds and pavilions either?  As always, your comments welcome.

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11 Comments on “Morning Read: Are county fairs still a good investment for the North Country?”

  1. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    The Lewis County fair held in Lowville, NY was very successful this year and has been year in year out for many years now. Thing is, this continued success has allowed the Lewis County Fair Board to finance the majority of its operations without direct county support. They also rely heavily on a small army of non-paid volunteers to make it the success it is. They also leverage other non for profit entities in the county whenever they expand, upgrade, or replace existing infrastructure which saves them and county gov’t substantial sums of money.

    While I’m not an avid fair attendee, I do think it’s great for the community at large. I hope Warren County can continue to operate its fair.

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  2. mervel says:

    I think fairs are good. However this may be an area that you could look to more regional cooperation? The North Country has a rich agricultural tradition, we have some relatively active 4h clubs, it would seem a three or four county fair would be successful? Pick the largest fairground and have several counties contribute.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    As we go down the list and decide we can’t afford this and can’t afford that, eventually we will decide we can’t afford anything and everyone will move out because there is nothing left of anything.
    Is that the plan?

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  4. Peter Hahn says:

    I spent one afternoon at the Essex county fair. There weren’t many visitors and it seemed a lot smaller than the Monterey county fair (California) I remember as a kid, but maybe I was smaller too and it just seemed that way. The counties are large geographically and it takes a long time to get to the fairs. The problem with a multi-county fair would be that it might take several hours for people to get there – meaning they probably wouldnt bother.

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  5. Kathy says:

    Years ago, the county fairs were the highlight of the summer. But life has evolved and people are doing other things and going other places.

    If it’s going to help a county’s budget, ditch it.

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  6. Mervel says:

    Probably just nostalgia for when I was young. But a fair is where you went and saw the best cattle in the county, the biggest and best squash, where you showed your sheep for a ribbon etc. We always went to look at the latest new farm equipment that John Deer was introducing the next year etc.

    To me it was all about agriculture, that was the point of the county fair plus blowing of some steam and having fun.

    It just seems given that we have a agricultural base in the north country we would have some good county fairs. The Franklin County fair seems pretty good to me.

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  7. Paul says:

    Where else am I going to go to see a giant sculpture made out of butter and get some deep fried Twinkies?

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  8. The Washington County Fair is still a highlight of the summer around here… for people not only from that county but from Warren and Saratoga counties as well.

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  9. TomL says:

    The St. Lawrence County Fair in Gouverneur is struggling, and seems to have money problems. I have been a few times in recent years, and it has always been a bit disappointing.

    The Franklin County Fair in Malone, on the other hand, is vibrant. This is a fair that is mentioned in ‘Farmer Boy’, and it really maintains that timeless county fair ‘feel’. It is packed with people.

    I hear that the Jefferson County Fair is pretty good too. Maybe the fairs should move to a more ‘regional’ (multi-county) format. It does seem that they are kind of evolving that way.

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  10. Mervel says:

    I agree Tom, I think they are doing something right for that fair.

    Why not make that a regional fair (Franklin, St. Lawrence and Essex Counties)?

    The St. Lawrence fair always seems on the edge to me also, it seems mainly like a Gouverneur fair, not the county fair.

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  11. Jeff says:

    Lewis County does not charge a gate fee for admission.

    They do charge for parking, per car. I expect they take a cut of the other action. People go over for lunch or dinner or just for a few rides or shows or to look at the animals or watch the animal competitions. The grandstand ticket for the concert or demo-derby is pay to enter, not cheap but the rest of the atmosphere is free.

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