The York Fair is just days away, and with it comes popular fair fun: rides, games, animals and, of course, fair food.
Among the funnel cakes and cotton candy, dedicated fairgoers know just where to go for a York Fair favorite.
The York Little Theatre, the nonprofit community theater in York, has been serving up popular Italian steak sandwiches at the York Fair since 1958. The stand has been a staple on Gourmet Row, the walkway to the fair's grandstand, since it opened.
The stand was the brainchild of Betty Gerberick and her husband, George, as a way to bring in money for the theater. That first year, the sandwiches sold for 40 cents and netted a profit of $814.20, all of which went into the organization's building
Today, the sandwiches sell for $6 and the stand brings in an average of $20,000 in profits, all of which goes directly toward repairs and upkeep of the theater, according to Lee Davis, a 28-year volunteer and member of the planning committee. That upkeep includes new lights, sound equipment, curtains and carpeting.
Davis, 71, of Springettsbury Township, has been working at the YLT stand since 1985, when he was playing Daddy Warbucks in the theater's production of "Annie." He was recruited to help set up, because he was young and "had some muscle," he said.
He has been a faithful volunteer ever since. Davis, who served in the military, said he was impressed with the amount of work people put into the stand year after year.
"It's a lot like an army kitchen," he said.
While the stand is only open during the fair's 10-day run, planning begins months in advance, Davis said. He and his fellow committee members are responsible for recruiting workers, setting schedules and ordering the food.
The stand is run by more than 100 volunteers who help with everything from set up and tear down to slicing and grilling. Lee estimates that during the duration of the fair, volunteers put in approximately 2,500 hours.
Davis said those who volunteer are doing more than raising money for the theater -- they are ensuring its future.
"YLT is one of the greatest assets in York," he said. "We are performing a real community service."
The Queen: The stand wouldn't be the same without one key player.
Jeanette Aiken, 83, of York, has been a volunteer with both the stand and the theater since the early 1950s. She says the teamwork is what keeps her coming back every year.
"The camaraderie of the volunteers and the enthusiasm they show," Aiken said. "It's a terrific mixture of people."
Aiken has earned the nickname "The Queen" for her dedication and hard work over the years. When asked where the name came from, she laughs.
"It has something to do with the fact that I'm the oldest, I'm sure."
Aiken says one thing she likes about working at the stand is that it is multi-generational. The same people she knew as kids are now adults who volunteer with their own children.
"It's a very devoted group of people," she said.
"We have families that come out year after year," he said. "Dad will cook, mom will slice tomatoes, kids will clean."
Davis says that carries over into the theater community as well. He has watched kids mature into responsible adults over the years. He said volunteering helps them learn responsibility, dependability and punctuality.
Changes: The stand has seen some changes over the years, especially as it grew. More equipment was bought, including an electric onion slicer, and over time, much of it has had to be replaced. They also added a seating section with table and chairs, an addition welcome by customers, Davis said.
The group faced its biggest obstacle in 2006, when West Manchester Township announced a new ordinance
that set construction codes to ensure safety for fairgoers. The changes required new equipment that would cost more than the tent itself and threatened many longtime York Fair food vendors, including YLT.
However, in 2007, Gov. Ed Rendell signed a state law that made temporary structures exempt from the ordinance, and the stand was able to open for business for its 50th anniversary.
The sandwich: As for the sandwich itself, Davis said it has not changed since the stand opened. Every sandwich is made to order and built right in front of the customer. The sandwiches are made on a kaiser roll and are stacked with pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, provolone cheese and steak right off the grill. Davis said the stand has a very loyal clientele who return to the fair every year.
And according to the Aiken, the quality is what keeps them coming back.
"It's a good product and people flock to it," she said.
The stand sells "several thousand" sandwiches throughout the duration of the fair, Davis said, but that doesn't mean he and his fellow volunteers don't get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Every volunteer is allowed one sandwich during each shift they work.
"I usually eat one per day," he said. "But we try not eat the profits."
At the end of the day, despite the long hours and hard work, Davis said the stand is all about serving the community and having fun.
"We have a good time out there, even though we are serious about doing our jobs," he said. "If it's not fun, we don't want to be doing it."