Locals reflect on shorter Hopkinton State Fair
Sights from Hopkinton Fair on Saturday, August 30, 2014. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
A 1921 Majestic Hit and Miss seven horsepower engine drives an antique corn shelling machine at the Hopkinton Fair on Saturday, August 30, 2014. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
Ten-year-old Isabel Celata of Tewksbury, MA, cuddles with a most willing goat at the Charmingfare Farm display at the Hopkinton Fair on Saturday, August 30, 2014. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
Now in its 99th year, the Hopkinton State Fair wraps up today. But it was the delayed start of festivities on Thursday that brought mixed reactions from town residents.
Annual fairgoers learned months ago that the traditionally five-day fair would be cut back to four days this year. They learned just recently, though, that the traditional preview night held for local visitors would also see significant changes.
The preview night, usually held Wednesday but this year pushed to Thursday, was still open to local visitors. Food vendors, however, were not allowed to open, as they have in past years.
Hopkinton State Fair Association board member George Saunderson pointed to insurance reasons for the change.
“The vendors come in and they have their own set of insurance and their insurance policy says that during the time the fair is open, that they’re insured by a third company,” Saunderson said. “But technically speaking, the fair wasn’t open (Thursday) . . . it really opened technically at 8 o’clock Friday. . . . So it’s a little bit of a liability issue.”
Saunderson said that he was not aware of any specific insurance policy changes, but just felt that updates needed to be made. “I think it’s just something that needed to be addressed and tightened up,” he said.
Deb Curtis, president of the Hopkinton State Fair Association, explained that the preview night is not advertised or promoted, and that the fair is still being set up the night before it officially begins.
Curtis said that based upon discussions with the fire chief and town administrator, the decision to implement the changes was reached at the association’s meeting last month. “(We) still wanted to allow the town people to come in,” she said. “We have to maintain safety . . . our staff is still in set-up mode.”
Aside from insurance concerns, the decision not to allow vendors to sell food Thursday night was also meant to encourage fairgoers to spend their money at local businesses, Saunderson said. “If they needed something to eat, they could go downtown to Contoocook and that would maybe be a benefit to the town, so we decided to do that.”
Contoocook Covered Bridge Restaurant saw a boost in business Thursday night.
“We were screaming busy Thursday,” said bar manager Lindsay Hunt, noting that the Cedar Street restaurant was much busier Thursday than on last year’s preview night. “We were almost busier than Friday, which never happens.”
Hunt said that local businesses appreciate the fair because it brings a lot of business to the town.
“For local businesses, it’s nice to see more people in town overall,” added, Dimitri Tsihlis, one of the owners of Dimitri’s Pizza on Park Avenue in Contoocook.
Tsihlis, however, said he did not see a significant difference in business Thursday night from what he had seen on past preview nights.
Both Tsihlis and Hunt did, however, hear similar reactions to changes to the fair. “People are pretty (annoyed) about Thursday,” Hunt said about the one-day reduction to the fair.
“I had heard people were a little upset because food wasn’t being served up there,” Tsihlis said.
Terri Ohlson-Martin, a longtime volunteer at the food stand run by the First Congregational Church of Webster, said that notice was given a week before the fair that vendors would not be allowed to open on preview night. The church – which has had a stand at the fair for 63 years – usually brought in only about $200 or $300 on that night, she said.
“The day downwas okay by me,” said Ohlson-Martin. She said that although it may have an effect on revenue – the fair is a major fundraiser for the church – that it is one less day for her and all of the other volunteers to be on their feet. “They’re good to us.”
“Four days isn’t a bad thing,” agreed Michael McKenna, general manager at North Country Tractor. “Thursdays weren’t a great day.”
Saunderson also said that Thursdays were a slow day for the fair. “Kids are in school, people have jobs,” he said. “We were hoping to make this a little more succinct and a little more Labor Day weekend-ish.”
“We wouldn’t not do this. It’s our local fair,” added McKenna, explaining that North Country Tractor is “happy to participate in Hopkinton State Fair.”
Curtis also was happy about the fair’s 99th year. “If you’re going to have perfect fair weather, Saturday was the absolute perfect day,” she said, adding that yesterday was proving to be the same for the fair.
As the Hopkinton State Fair approaches its 100th year, it remains an agricultural fair, both Curtis and Saunderson said.
“The nature of the fair has changed. . . . The fair, like everything else in New Hampshire and modern life, is slowly changing. There’s still people who are raising pigs and sheep and goats,” Saunderson said. “(But) lots of times on Saturdays, kids have high school sports, which they really didn’t 20 years ago. They’re in practices or they’re in games. Life is more complicated. But the fair seems to be doing well. I think there’s always a little place for the fair.”