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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chautauqua County Fair

Workers set up rides and concession stands for the 127th Chautauqua County Fair.

As soon as the Chautauqua County Fair is over, that's when the work really begins ... for the following year.


During recent phone interviews, Public Relations Representative for the Chautauqua County Fair Randall Brown and Fair Board Secretary and part-time Manager Jared Woolley discussed the Herculean amount of time, energy and labor necessary to put on the week-long festivities which make up the 127th Annual Chautauqua County Fair. In fact, it's a continuous, year-long process.

Brown said planning for each fair begins the day after the previous fair ends.

"(The Chautauqua County Fair Board) meets immediately following the fair to go through what we did right and what we can improve on for the following year's fair," he explained. "... It really never stops."


Immediately, after all agricultural shows and events, Brown said the fair board evaluates each to see the level of registration and set classifications. All of this is done, he explained, to put together the exhibitor's handbook for the following year.

Woolley said the contract for amusement rides is also taken care of immediately since the board has only 30 days to decide to keep the same rides for the following year.

In October, the annual shareholders member meeting is held in order to elect board members and appoint officers. The board also adopts the budget for the coming year at this meeting.

"We start laying the plans on what we're going to do depending on what kind of money we've made," Woolley said, "what we can put back into the grounds and back into the equipment to keep it up to snuff."


In January, board members attend the State Association of County Fairs annual convention in Rochester to begin scheduling shows and events. While at the convention, Brown explained, the board can view and interview talent as prospective main acts, checking availability and cost. Woolley said the fair board also meets with talent agencies throughout the fall of the previous year.


"We usually leave Rochester completely booked," Brown said.

From that point on, he said the fair board begins filling in the schedule with local entertainment and performers.

However, booking the entertainment which draws thousands of people from across the region each year is only half the battle. The other half is repairing and preparing the fairgrounds itself.

Most repairs are performed during the fall following fair season and the next year's spring. This work is done, for the most part, by board members, grounds crew and, when necessary, outside contractors.

"There's a huge physical plan there at the fairgrounds in terms of building repairs and maintenance that needs to be attended to," Brown explained.

Throughout the year, Woolley said, there are three large tractors, several mowers, and equipment for track maintenance which must be serviced. In addition, the track itself, along with numerous barns, must be maintained year-round.

This year, he said a grant was received to re-roof four barns and invest in some of the fairground equipment.

Brown said the fair board also always looks at improving water, electric and sewer services on the grounds.

On average, Brown said, between Floral Hall, 4-H activities and board members, there is about 400 volunteer workers involved with planning and setup for the fair. During fair week, he said a staff of around 40 is maintained.

Overall, the fair is a massive physical and financial undertaking.

"To put the fair on is basically a half million dollar proposition," Brown said.

The bulk of this, he explained, comes from gate receipts, but Woolley added money is received through leasing out barns and other buildings on the fairgrounds.

In the end, all the time and effort is condensed into a week of fun and entertainment for residents across the region before the rides and booths are torn down and planning for the next year begins.

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