Ledyard fair will be held in September but future seasons in question

Lights from the Rockwell Amusements rides light the evening sky at the 70th Ledyard Fair on Sept. 11, 2015. Organizers of the annual event say it may end after this year, due to a lack of funds.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Lights from the Rockwell Amusements rides light the evening sky at the 70th Ledyard Fair on Sept. 11, 2015. Organizers of the annual event say it may end after this year, due to a lack of funds. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Ledyard — After many discussions about their financial situation going back to October, organizers say that they will in fact hold the Ledyard Fair this year in September.

But with no funds to cover a financial loss next year, any future seasons of the town institution are in question.

If donations don't come in or the fair doesn't make enough money this year, "it may be goodbye to the Ledyard fair," fair President Loretta Kent said Tuesday.

"This isn't a (fundraiser) you're going to want to pass by ... if the fair has made a difference in your life or your kids' life or family," she said. "This monumental occasion could very well be coming to an end."

The board of directors of Ledyard Fair Association, which plans and administers the fair, set a goal to raise $25,000 back in November and seek corporate sponsors, after losing money the previous five years.

The board also launched a GoFundMe page to ask for direct donations from the public. As of Tuesday evening, it had received $1,300 toward the $10,000 goal.

Fair organizers said the money would be needed to put on the same fair as last year, even without big-name entertainers like Cassadee Pope, and wondered if the fair would be possible in September.

But now, with the fair scheduled to be held from Sept. 8-10, organizers may just choose to scale back on some other entertainment options based on their financial position in July, when the first contracts are signed.

"What we don't know at this point is how big the fair is going to be, nor do we know if this will be the final fair or the fair will continue," Ledyard Fair Association Treasurer Kenneth Candler said.

"We decided we needed to have a fair, even if it's a 'thanks for everything,'" he added.

The fair, which celebrated its 71st season last year, has lost money recently due to a number of factors, Candler said, including bad weather and bets on entertainment that didn't bring in expected ticket revenue.

Since that time, the fair's rainy day fund — money held to cover literal rainy days which deflate attendance and cost the fair huge amounts of money — has disappeared. Organizers say they don't want to be put in a situation where they couldn't pay a vendor.

Candler said he's been providing month-by-month updates of the fair's financial situation and overhauled the way the fair tracks money, so the board of directors can take a hard look at what it can provide.

"We're using better accounting standards ... and ensur(ing) we keep better tracking of money incoming," he said.

He's also sought ways to cut costs, including looking at eliminating some of the award categories that go out to sixth and seventh place, which would be more in line with other agricultural fairs in the region, as well as hiring less expensive bands and eliminating more expensive attractions like the Marvelous Mutts performing dog show. Shows like the latter cost the fair money, unlike the amusement park rides, which give the fair a percentage of their revenue.

But Kent said organizers are willing to hear any and all ideas, from criticisms to suggestions about new events for the fair to add, to bring the fair back in the black. "If it's something we can change, if it's something we are doing ... good or bad, we're reaching out to the community to help..." he said.

The fair also so far has decided against raising the price of admission, because of a perception in town that the price is too high already.

What people may not realize, Kent said, is that the admission price pays for the shuttles from parking lots at the schools, whereas other towns actually make money by charging for fair parking on their own land.

Sarah Blendermann, who set up the GoFundMe page on the fair's behalf, said that all four members of her family have entered into the various contests the fair holds every year. Not holding the fair would be a big loss to town, she said, and she hopes that people in the community tell each other that the fair is in trouble.

"We're not looking for everyone to make a $100 donation," she said. Whether it's "$3 or $20, it's nice to see support."

Organizers have not set a definite fundraising goal that will make a 2018 year possible, and will take a look going into August whether they might have enough.

Several town councilors have donated to the GoFundMe campaign, including Councilor William Saums, who volunteers with the fair and has added his voice to the calls for more fundraising.

Saums said that losing a "great social event" like the fair would have an impact on many community organizations, such as the high school senior class, the Rotary and Lions clubs, local VFW chapters and other nonprofits who use booths at the fair to raise money and connect with residents each year.

The fair is also a rare occasion where everyone gets a chance to catch up with acquaintances in town, officials said.

"The Ledyard fair is like Christmas," Kent said. The atmosphere is convivial, and a missed acquaintance at the fair "is that family member that you didn't see at Christmas."

The Ledyard Fair Association meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at the Morgan Barn on the Ledyard Fairgrounds. New volunteers are welcome.

n.lynch@theday.com

Luis Carrillo of Rockwell Entertainment works on setting up the Samba Balloon ride at the Ledyard Fair Grounds on Sept. 7, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Luis Carrillo of Rockwell Entertainment works on setting up the Samba Balloon ride at the Ledyard Fair Grounds on Sept. 7, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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