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Running out of money, Ledyard Fair seeks sponsorship to fund future season

Ledyard — The Ledyard fair, a town tradition which celebrated its 71st edition in September, will need to come up with $25,000 by April to reach a 72nd season.

"We're at a quandary," Fair President Loretta Kent said.

According to fair organizers, a number of factors have conspired against the fair in recent years. Agricultural fair attendance on the whole has declined statewide. The fair still draws between 16,000 and 19,000 people each year, but threatening weather has cut into profits in the past few seasons, said acting Vice Chairman Rich Kent Jr.

After this most recent season, the fair ended about $45,000 in the red — cutting into an already dwindling reserve fund which currently stands at around $13,000.

After the 71st season ended in September, longtime fair president Leslie Doe-Koehler moved away. The Board of Directors lost five of its 12 members, with one dying and others leaving due to a combination of medical and personal issues.

A few short weeks after the fair ended, at a dinner in October, new board members and Kent were selected. Then, a week later, members were called into an emergency board meeting to discuss the fair's financial situation.

Fair organizers and Town Councilor Bill Saums then decided to publicly discuss the fair's financial troubles in order to address the shortfall. 

Contracts are signed at the end of the year, and bills come due in April, Loretta Kent said, meaning the next few months are critical for those who care about the town tradition.

Kent said the fair would also be open to individual or corporate sponsorships of specific activities, such as the goat show.

Several levels of support are offered from $100-$499 to become a "Friend of the Fair" and be listed in the fair program and website to a "VIP Sponsor" which is mentioned in a banner and all fair materials, among other perks.

The fair typically costs close to $120,000 to stage according to an expense sheet provided by the fair association. The fair also puts on the annual light parade and spring egg hunt. 

Fair organizers hoped headlining act Cassadee Pope, a singer-songwriter and winner of "The Voice," could help offset declining attendance. She cost the fair an extra $26,040, but more threatening weather and misinformation about whether the show had been canceled meant crowds failed to materialize.

Going forward, organisers plan to feature less costly local bands and musicians as they have done in the past, but continuing to think about new ways to attract people to the fair.

Unlike municipal-sponsored events such as Sailfest in New London, the fair receives no financial support from the town. Residents often assume the town provides the school buses shuttling people to the fair and police presence —  however the Ledyard Fair Association pays for both services.

A team of 75 volunteers coordinates the dozens of rides, livestock from all over the state and events during the three-day fair each September. And for the core of 12 dedicated volunteers, it's a 12-month job, said Loretta Kent.

The fair qualifies as a district agricultural fair -- one of four in the state -- because it continues to offer essential competitions such as needlecraft, baking and children's hobbies, as well as educational, agricultural and civic exhibits.

The Board of Directors has held off raising admission prices because of the "hammering" they got two years from the public over the last price increase, according to Rich Kent.

Many of the longtime members of the association were nonetheless optimistic when during their last meeting 20 new people showed up to help out.

They hope new faces will help them be creative and help them "keep what they built going."

"We want to see it succeed and go on to 75th and 100th season," Rich Kent said. "Without it, you lose something."

Mayor Michael Finkelstein and Town Council Chairwoman Linda Davis met with fair organizers who informed them of their situation Monday. Finkelstein said he was encouraged by the plan the fair organizers put forth.

"For many of us, our entire lives it's has been a stable of early September ... (they're) trying to maintain an institution in not just Ledyard but other communities," he said.

Those who wish to donate to the fair can send checks payable to Ledyard Fair to P.O. Box 249, Ledyard, CT 06339.

n.lynch@theday.com

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