EDITORIAL: Give summer run a fair shake

The York Dispatch

The York Fair claims the title as the oldest in the country — it even holds the trademark for "America's First Fair."

It began 253 years ago, when Thomas Penn gave the people of the "Town of York" a charter for a semi-annual fair, "as this Town lies extremely convenient for this purpose" of selling cows, chickens and the like.

It has been a source of pride for Yorkers, predating the founding of our country and even York County’s other claim to fame — the site of the nation’s first capital.

But the York Fair didn’t survive from colonial times to the internet age without adapting.

York Fair in York, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

There was even a period of decades beginning in 1815 when there was no fair, which locals complained had been attracting “objectionable people,” according to records at the York County History Center.

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Even after the fair returned in 1853, not everyone was happy with the way it was run.

Michael Froehlich, general manager of the fair, recently noted an old York Dispatch article that reported concerns from farmers in the 1890s and early 1900s that the fair was moving away from its roots.

And prior to 1942 the fair was held in October, but that year it was moved to the September run we know today.

People were probably up in arms about it when that change was made, saying, "the fair will never be the same," Froehlich added.

It probably wasn’t the same — not the same as it was in 1941 or more than 150 years earlier when the main draw was selling livestock.

But it did survive.

And if the York Fair is to continue its long tradition, organizers are right to again consider changes.

The York Fair board is using a grant from York County Tourism committee to re-examine its mission and make sure it’s keeping up with the times.

In addition to upgrading and expanding facilities at the York Expo Center, which hosts the fair, one option on the table is moving the event from September to summer.

Though fair attendance has been down in recent years, Froehlich said that's not the reason for the potential scheduling change.

But he does make a good case for it.

"In many ways, the fair has become more of an evening and weekend fair, and that’s because school’s in session," Froehlich said.

School is in session by September, and the York Fair is competing with Friday night football and other weekend sporting events.

Plus, the 4-H clubs children who typically show their animals at the fair might have conflicts with school schedules, he said.

With a summer fair, those kids would be able to show more often, and their friends could stay later during longer daylight hours, which would help concession and ride sales, Froehlich said.

He added college students also would be home for the summer, providing opportunities for them to take advantage of internships or work at the fair.

"I think there’s a lot of positives for it," Froehlich said, stating it would be the only way the fair could grow attendance.

Revenue from the Expo Center is split about 50-50 between other events and the York Fair — generating well over $200 million yearly, with more than 150 events throughout the year, he said.

As it is, the fair is generating about a $100 million boost for the local economy. 

If organizers think they can improve on that, they should absolutely pursue it.

“America’s First Fair” didn’t earn that title by resting on its laurels.