County fair organizers across Pennsylvania, including those in Cambria County, have reluctantly needed to become aggressive fundraisers over the past few years.
At one time, the commonwealth allocated over $4 million for fairs and other related groups such as the 4-H club. The recently enacted 2012-13 state budget calls for setting aside $2 million, with money coming from the Race Horse Development Fund, following several years of sub-$1 million support. The decrease has forced fairs to find creative ways of generating money.
Cambria County’s approach has been to hold an annual fund drive. A little while ago, local fair organizers sent out a letter asking supporters for donations, ranging from $2,500 or $1,500 for day sponsorships to $100 or less for bronze level recognition. The money raised will support the weeklong fair scheduled to run Sept. 2-8.
“We lost a considerable amount of funding, and they pretty much told us: ‘You’re on your own and you need to learn how to run things like a business,’ ” said Patricia Fenchak, Cambria County Fair office manager. “The funding cut really kind of cuts our throats and demands that we call on the local community to support us.”
Donation drives, stock car races, flea markets and bake sales have become common ways for fairs to raise funds.
“Money coming in (from outside sources) enable (those fairs) to balance their budgets,” said Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs President Ron Miller.
Scheduling popular musical acts is another way of generating community interest and money. The 2012 Cambria County Fair will include a performance by four-time Grammy-winner Marty Stuart on Sept. 2 at 8 p.m.
Clearfield County Fair has attracted several well-known performers, including ZZ Top and Bret Michaels, in the recent past. This year, The Clarks, a Pittsburgh-based rock band, will play on Aug. 1 beginning at 8 p.m. The Band Perry, a platinum-certified country-rock group, will entertain fans on Aug. 3.
“Our entertainment on the stage helps with our day-to-day costs of operating the fairgrounds the other 51 weeks out of the year,” said the fair’s manager, Greg Hallstrom.
Clearfield has often given over $50,000 in combined premiums to winners in livestock presentation, canning and other categories. With the state now reimbursing less than one-fourth of the award money, Hallstrom’s organization will cut the total prize payouts by 35 percent for its upcoming fair that will take place from July 29 to Aug. 4.
“We feel bad having to do it,” said Hallstrom.
“We ate it the last two or three years, and it made a pretty big impact on us.”
Several Pennsylvania fairs have not been able to overcome the difficult financial climate; at least four have ceased operations.
“It’s true that with the state budget cuts that state funding for fairs is going to be squeezed. The county fair does have a long – for many generations – tradition for rural people. ... A lot of people really think of the fair as an important part of their children’s lives growing up,” said Cambria County Farm Bureau spokesman Martin Yahner.
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