It's official - the 128th Chautauqua County Fair is open.
A large boom from a cannon signaled the grand opening of the 2009 fair as fair officials, elected officials and interested citizens looked on Monday morning. Even though the fairgrounds had plenty of elbow room as folks came trickling in, a walk through the grounds provided a glimpse of what will be in store - good eats and drinks, rides, games, exhibits and people watching will all be part of it.
Lon Robinson is in his first or what is usually a two-year term as president of the Fair Association. Robinson was asked if the economy will play a role in the fair's success.
"I do. I think with the economy I think people are staying home, going to local events. That's just the trend that's been around the state so far this year," he said. "You see a lot of people going to the local festivals and stuff like that. This is a cheap alternative to a lot of families to taking a long vacation. It's very affordable to come here for the week. If they bought advanced sale tickets they were six bucks. Now it's $8, and $9 for the weekend."
Robinson said the price couldn't be matched.
"Any of the large amusement parks or anything like that you're looking three-four times the money per person," he said. "I think this is very affordable. We have a great diversity of things on the grounds. We've got a lot of new features this year."
One of those new features will replace a children's favorite.
"We didn't have the petting zoo back, there was a conflict that they couldn't make it this year," Robinson explained. "We tried a new attraction up front for the kids. They get to learn about agriculture and milk a cow and learn about the dairy industry, a lot of interactive stuff that the kids can do hands-on. We thought that would be something new to do."
Robinson was part of a crew that spent some nights and weekends erecting the new entrance located at the west end of the grounds. He was asked how one becomes president of the Fair Association.
"Usually you come up through the ranks, you do second vice president and first vice president and then president," he said. "It's like a six-year process or a four-year process to get up to be president. The board of directors elects the officers, somebody nominates you for a position.
"We always hope that somebody will take it because then it's not me, but now it's me, so I'm here."
County Executive Greg Edwards was present for the ceremony and was asked for his thoughts on the fair.
"It's a first-class fair. It's a place where families can come, have good, honest, wholesome entertainment and have a chance to learn more and more about a very critical part of our lifestyle and who we are, that's our agricultural community," Edwards said. "I encourage everybody to come. It's a place where they can come and have some fun and really enjoy who we are."
Edwards said he plans on being at the fair for parts of every day.
"There's a number of activities I have to continue to work at in the office and in and around the county but I plan on spending some time here each day because we have a significant presence here this year," he said of county government. "Right as you walk in the back door, the new entrance, you'll see the yellow and white awning tent. We have five to six agencies that will be in there everyday with opportunities for people to learn more about the services we can provide. They can get health screenings while they're here."
Edwards also said there would be drawings for three bicycles to draw youth and parents into the tent to learn more about county government.
"We'll learn too because we'll talk to people and we'll find ways to improve our operation and we try to do that everyday," he said. "I encourage folks to be here and I'll be in for a good portion of the week."
Edwards was asked if he'll mix in some campaigning as he is up for re-election in November.
"Absolutely, because what I've discovered is I'm out and about with my family all the time and that gives me a chance to interact with taxpayers, with voters, with people who come and visit here. And whenever I'm out I talk with people and find ways we can improve our services," he said. "It gives me a chance to personally convey all the good work that's happened the last three and a half years, and all of the great things that are coming our way because of that hard work. I'll certainly be talking to people about the success we've had and the work we've got coming toward us, and the good efforts that people I work with have made to help make this county a success."
State Sen. Catharine Young, R-57, was glad to be back for another opening but had concerns about the future of farming - a focal point of the fair.
"This is important to our economy, it is also very important to our heritage. Our agricultural industry is still the number one industry in New York state," she said. "Right now I'm fighting to do some very positive things for it. Our dairy farmers are struggling and I'm working very hard to get the dairy assistance program back into place. New York state has stimulus dollars that are sitting there right now. We need to invest in our farms and we also have to stop harmful legislation, like the farm worker bill, that would put most of our farms out of business."
Young was asked if county fairs could be affected by the farm worker bill.
"There's a real push on in New York state right now to pass that legislation. I think it's the wrong thing to do," she said. "I think it would severely cripple our state economy because not only would it put our farms out of business but it would put food processors out of business, other spinoffs like equipment dealers, feed suppliers and so on. This is a very crucial time in New York state.
"We should be doing everything that we can to stimulate the economy, to get the economy back on track instead of having these crazy policies. So the fair is just one example of the things that we do right in New York state, the things that we do right in Chautauqua County. We ought to continue to work on doing the right things for the people of our state."
Alberta Oonk is one of the fair directors and was working in the museum building that houses old farm equipment, machines, tools and horse-drawn transportation.
She was asked how many people visit the exhibits and whether visitors had questions.
"We haven't kept track over the last few years but we do have a lot of people every day," she said. "A lot of questions and a lot of comments. 'I remember when we used to have one of those' or 'My grandparents had one of those.' Things like that, a lot of comments that we get."
"A lot of people had farming backgrounds that don't do anything with farming these days. A lot of them knew what they were, knew how they worked, but if they don't they do ask."
Oonk said there were some new additions this year.
"We have a beautiful trunk, a wardrobe trunk, I've never seen anything like that before. Various other smaller things," she said. "We don't have a lot of room for a lot of new things each year anymore so we have to be kind of choosy as to what we get."
Dunkirk Mayor Richard Frey was present for the opening and was asked what the fair means to the city.
"I think this is a great financial impact. There's people coming into town and so many local vendors here and the Fair Association is such a great partner with the city of Dunkirk," Frey said. "In the winter time we use the old skating rink facility for our recreational winter program and Lon Robinson, the president of the Fair Association, and whole board up here has just been so good to the city of Dunkirk. We work with them, they work with us. One hand washes the other and I'll tell you what, they've been great partners with us.
"The fair being here in the city really gives us great exposure to what we have, hoping they come in and get down to the waterfront, get along there. Even driving by, take a look at what's been done and what's out here and I think we'll get people to come back after it's all over with."
The 128th Chautauqua County Fair won't be over with until Sunday so there is still plenty of time to take in all it has to offer.