A ‘fair’ way to make a living

Posted July 30, 2009, at 10:09 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — If you make it to the Bangor State Fair in the next 10 days, look for Paul or Jimmy Buchino.

They won’t be hard to find. Go through the main entrance and past the Bengal tigers. Their booth will be on the left. There’s also a second booth at the far end of the fairground.

Or just ask someone. Over the past five decades, the Boston brothers and Italian sausage stand operators have become the elder statesmen of the midway. They know everyone, and everyone knows them.

“We like Bangor,” said Jimmy, 74, the elder Buchino, who has worked nearly 100 locations in his lifetime. “Most shows are the same, more or less, but the people and the management here are real nice.”

By 2 p.m. today, the grill inside the Buchinos’ stand will be fired up, and the smell of grilled peppers and onions will waft through the summer air.

But on Thursday, one day before the start of the 10-day event at Bass Park, the sausage joint is quiet.

The grill is cold.

They wait.

Like many others, this is the life they have chosen. Or, more accurately, it’s the life the Buchinos have inherited.

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“It started with my grandfather and father,” Jimmy said. “I think we’re up to five generations now.”

For the Buchinos, fairs are a family tradition, but Bass Park Director Mike Dyer said the entire operation takes on the qualities of an extended family. For about two weeks, they’re all in it together.

“You have to have it in you,” Dyer said Thursday from the midway as vendors continued their final setup.

“You look around and think some of these people are a little rough around the edges, but 90 percent of them would give you the shirt off their back. They work long hours here and then they’re off to another place. Nobody sees that.”

Bangor State Fair at a glance

WHAT: The 160th Bangor State Fair, hosted by Fiesta Shows.

FEATURING: Games, food, rides, agricultural events, tigers, racing ducks, freestyle motorcycles and disc-catching canines.

WHEN: Friday, July 31, through Sunday, Aug. 9.

TIMES: The fair opens at 2 p.m. and closes at 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.

On Saturday and Sunday, the fair opens at noon and closes at 10 p.m., except for the final day, when gates close at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Bass Park, Main Street, Bangor.

PARKING: Available at Bass Park by Buck Street, as well as at private lots in the area.

HOW MUCH: For the first time since 1993, admission will be a flat fee. For $10, patrons can see all shows and exhibits and have access to unlimited rides.

E.J. Dean of Fiesta Shows, New England’s largest carnival operator and the engine behind the Bangor State Fair since the 1960s, said the Buchinos are an extreme example, but most of his vendors and employees are 10- to 20-year veterans.

They keep coming back because they enjoy it and because they get the job done.

“We’re here to work,” Paul Buchino, 70, said. “From March to October, this is what we do.”

This year marks the 160th fair in Bangor. For the first time in 16 years, the fair will return to a flat fee. Ten dollars gets patrons access to all rides, shows and exhibits. It’s also the first time the fair has marketed itself through Facebook and Twitter.

Amid the constant changes and updates, though, there is a familiarity that defines the event, and all fairs really. A Ferris wheel. Booths advertising next-to-impossible games for marginal prizes. Fried dough.

And, of course, sausages.

“What you have to do is start the grill about a half-hour before lunchtime to get those smells in the air,” said Paul Buchino, 70. “Then you do the same near dinner. And you put everything out for people to see it.”

Bangor Mayor Gerry Palmer said the great thing about the Bangor State Fair is that no matter how much it changes, it stands the test of time.

Dyer, who pushed to change the fair’s pricing structure this year as a way to bring the community back together, said some things will never change.

“I think people come to expect certain things and we have a responsibility to offer them,” he said.

By today, the Buchinos’ sausage stand will be bustling with energy. Paul and Jimmy, along with sons, nephews and grandchildren, will be busy earning their living.

“Come back and see us next Sunday,” Paul said. “You wouldn’t believe how much work goes into setting up and tearing down.”

The Buchinos won’t have much time to dawdle. They will pack up and head from Bangor straight to Bolton, Mass., for another fair.

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