Cost of fuel might hurt State Fair attendance

Posted July 28, 2008, at 12 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2011, at 12:08 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine&nbsp- Though it’s too early to tell how the high cost of fuel will affect families attending this week’s Bangor State Fair, ride operators, vendors and agricultural exhibitors already are feeling the pinch.

With gasoline hovering around $4 a gallon and diesel even higher, the costs connected to bringing traveling acts and rides and hauling dairy cows, sheep and goats to the Bangor State Fair have risen sharply.

Jim Davis, a dairy farmer from New Sharon, estimates that it now costs at least $100 in gasoline to bring his children, animals and equipment to Bangor.

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“Fuel prices are affecting everybody and everything,” Davis said Sunday, adding that day-to-day operating costs for such basics as planting hay and buying grain have roughly doubled in the last year.

“It’ s a difficult situation. I just don’ t know where it’ s going to end,” he said.

In past years, he has brought two loads to Bangor. This summer, he cut back the extra trip. In addition, Davis’ wife, who stays back home during fair week because of her job, won’ t be making the drive to Bangor on Tuesday to watch their children show the animals they’ ve been raising.

In addition to fuel costs, many farmers are paying more for corn, in part because of recent flooding in the Midwest and demand by ethanol producers.

“They want farmers to feed the country — and fuel it now. It’ s not gonna happen,” Davis said,

Asked if he would continue to participate in the fair if his children weren’ t involved in 4-H, Davis shook his head and said, “No.”

Davis isn’ t the only agricultural participant being forced to make tough choices.

Rindy Fogler, the fair’ s agricultural superintendent, said farmers who take part in the fair are making fewer trips and bringing fewer and smaller animals. Dairy farmers, for example, are showing fewer milking cows during the fair, instead bringing younger animals to Bangor.

Fogler said some no longer can afford to participate at all.

She said she recently received a telephone call from one of the fair’ s regular sheep exhibitors. The exhibitor, who already had paid the necessary registration costs, was forced to cancel the trip because she simply couldn’ t afford the fuel to get there.

“She called me literally in tears,” Fogler said.

Bass Park Director Mike Dyer said the carnival aspect of the fair — the rides, games and other midway attractions as well as the traveling acts — also are finding fuel costs harder to swallow.

Dyer said it is costing midway operator Fiesta Shows an estimated $20,000 more this year than last to operate the four diesel generators it uses to power the rides at the fair. With ride receipts now on par with last year’ s at the same point, Dyer said Fiesta owner Eugene Dean will have to “spend twice as much money to make the same amount.”

Dyer said the fair usually draws 63,000 to 65,000 visitors in a typical year, five-year averages show. Despite higher gas costs, any drop in attendance this year is more likely to be driven by weather.

Peter and Maureen Cipullo of Bangor are among the area families that look forward to the fair each summer.

They said Sunday that while gasoline costs have forced them to cut back on what once were monthly visits to family in Massachusetts, the Bangor fair was a summer highlight for them and their 4-year-old daughter, Hailey.

“It seems a lot less crowded this year,” Peter Cipullo said, adding that there seemed to be fewer attractions this year.

What Dyer has observed over the decades, and what the midway operator and vendors have confirmed, is that fair attendance has been more sensitive to weather than gasoline costs.

“They said that if the weather holds, the rides will do OK, the food will do OK and the vendors will do OK,” he said.

The exception, he said, could be games, which tend to suffer when the economy sags.

Not everyone agreed, however.

Jose and Patricia Perugachi, who recently relocated to Bangor from New York City, said Sunday that business at Chayak — their American Indian jewelry, T-shirt and craft booth — appeared to be down by about 50 percent from last year’ s opening weekend at the Bangor fair.

“Normally, the first weekend [of the fair’ s 10-day run] is the best for us,” Jose Perugachi said. He speculated that gasoline costs might have something to do with the drop-off.

“I think so, yeah,” he said. “People are driving a lot less because gas is getting expensive.”

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