New Yorkers need not travel to the west coast to stand in an authentic San Francisco cable car. A cable car is just one of many unique attractions at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, NY, which this year took place from August 7 to 18. The fairgrounds sit on 275 acres dotted with 86 permanent buildings and structures and four green parks.
What began as a one-day event in 1841 is now a 12-day affair. The Erie County Fair has been held every year since its inception except for 1943, when the fair was cancelled due to World War II. Currently, it is America's third-largest county fair.
The Erie County Agricultural Society, a private and not-for-profit membership corporation, owns and runs the fair. Established in 1819, the Society is the oldest civic organization in western New York and does not receive funding from either the county or state. The Society is governed by a 13-member Board of Directors, and the Erie County Fair employs a small staff that produces the annual event.
This year's Erie County Fair set an attendance record with 1,160,184 attendees. With perfect weather, the attendance was up 12% in comparison to last year. A previous attendance record had been set in 2011 with 1,053,150. The average admission over the past six years has been 950,000.
"The biggest draw was the weather. It was dry and cool," said Assistant Fair Manager and Agriculture Manager Jessica Underberg. "Also the multitude of different things available for people to come to see. There's something for everybody. We made things more available as well. If you couldn't afford to come to the fair twice, maybe this year you could because of the special promotions."
Admission prices - $10 for adults, $7 for senior citizens, and no cost for children under age 12 - have remained the same for the past five years.
Members of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, including the Erie County Fair, participate in a food drive each year. Guests who brought cans of food on opening day received free admission, and those who donated cans of food on Sunday, August 11 received $5 off admission.
The fair collected canned food and monetary donations as a way to assist the Food Bank of Western New York during slow summer months. But this year's food drive was the largest food drive in the region's history. The "Food From the Fair Feeds WNY" drive collected 85,632 pounds of canned food and $31,478 in cash donations (equal to 220,346 pounds of food). In total, the fair collected 305,978 pounds of food.
One other way that the fair gives back to the community is through a year-round program called Farm to Table, which brings in third- and fourth-grade students from Western New York.
"We give the school a stipend of $100 per busload of kids. It's one of the of the last real places that we can connect agriculture production and consumers in one spot. Hands-on activities tie into New York state curriculum," said Underberg. "The students leave with bags of goodies and fair passes to get them to come back. It's a family-friendly place year round."
Another special promotion was that one lucky fairgoer drove away in a brand new 2013 Ford Fiesta, thanks to the Ford Dealers of Western New York.
Midway revenue increased 11.31% from 2012. James E. Strates Shows has been providing the carnival rides and midway for the past 89 years. Strates Shows is America's only railroad carnival, traveling with 400 employees and families during a seven-month season and transporting personnel and equipment with 61 rail cars and 34 trucks. This year, Strates Shows provided approximately 80 rides.
This year's fair had 127 food vendors, including usual fair favorites taffy, fudge, bbq, Italian pastries, and tacos. The Erie County Fair gives awards to the best concessions. This year, awards were given in the following categories: Best Fare of the Fair, The Sunshine Award (nicest vendor), the Best Outdoor Vendor, the Best Indoor Vendor, and the Most Improved Vendor.
For the daredevils at heart, the Erie County Fair featured some extreme attractions, both ticketed and unticketed. One event that was recently featured on MSN.com is the Ultimate Night of Destruction, a school bus demolition derby. These aren't regular yellow school buses, though; they're decorated with bright colors and patterns. The Best Appearing Bus, determined by audience response, wins a trophy and $500. Tickets for this event were $16. Other extreme events included Cowboy Kenny Steel Rodeo, Tractor Pull, and Demolition Derby.
For the less adventurous, the fair offered a Skyriver butterfly exhibit, a traveling exhibit of butterflies in a 40x60' enclosed tent. Other free, family-friendly events included a petting zoo, lasertainment, sea lion splash, Extreme Canines stunt dogs, Swifty Swine racing pigs, and 15 community shows.
Another fair highlight included the Nya:Weh Indian Village, which celebrates the rich heritage of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, people. Guests were able to purchase handmade items, try Native American foods, learn about the culture, and attend events like an Iroquois smoke dance competition. This year's highlights included a new "Turtle Mound" dance platform and a six-foot ear of corn.
The concert series included both ticketed and non-ticketed shows. Ticketed concerts included Three Days Grace, Austin Mahone, and Gary Allen with Josh Thompson. Free music included Sawyer Brown, Hotel California Tribute to the Eagles, Three Dog Night, and Blood Sweat and Tears.
The fair uses social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and a blog. The fair's Facebook page, where photos, links, and event highlights are posted, has more than 36,000 "likes." On Pinterest, they post photos related to agriculture, picture of rides and entertainment.
A fairground mobile app provides guests with helpful information for the fair: a find-my-car feature, Facebook integration, a GPS map of the fairgrounds, daily highlights, a search function for shows, exhibits, and food, and an alphabetical listing of exhibitors.
The 2014 Erie County Fair, which will be celebrating its 175th anniversary, will take place August 6 to 17. Next year will also mark the opening of the 60,000 square-foot Agriculture Discovery Center, a state-of-the-art facility that will host year-round agriculture education programming and include many interactive exhibits designed to enhance learning.
"By Tuesday (after the fair) we started demolition of older livestock barns. The new center will focus both on exhibitor and animal comfort. There will be a lounge for exhibitors when they come to the fair, and we're thinking about ventilation, water, and stalling for animals. Twenty-thousand square feet is dedicated to agriculture education year round," said Underberg.
Plans for the Agriculture Discovery Center currently incorporate popular displays like Milkable Mabel, the Blacksmith Shop, and the Milking Parlor.