Food vendors seeing brighter days with 175th Canfield Fair

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A woman sets up a concessions stand at the Canfield Fair.
Deana Girardi, of Girardi’s Kitchen Express, gets her stand ready in the morning at the Canfield Fair, Sept. 2, in Canfield, Ohio. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

CANFIELD, Ohio — The largest county fair in Ohio, and one of the largest county fairs in the country, returned in full for its 175th anniversary in Canfield, Ohio, after being mostly canceled in 2020.

“Our community has been tested, the last year and a half … and it feels good to be back,” said Anthony Traficanti, a Mahoning County commissioner, during the opening ceremonies for the 175th Canfield Fair, Sept. 2.

That holds true for concessionaires at the Canfield Fair, too. Food vendors faced major losses in a 2020 that saw most fairs and festivals either scaled back or canceled completely. They were eager to be back for the 2021 season. Many are seeing customers return to the fairs in full force.

“It didn’t feel like it skipped a beat,” said Deana Girardi, of Girardi’s Kitchen Express.

Fairgoers walk around near food trucks at the Canfield Fair.
Fair visitors walk around concessions stands at the Canfield Fair, Sept. 2. The Canfield Fair returned in full this year for its 175th anniversary. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

Higher numbers

Girardi, who mainly goes to events like Italian festivals and Rogers Flea Market, in addition to the Canfield Fair, said the first day of the fair started out a little slow. The weather, and school being in session, might have been the cause. But with weather clearing up and Labor Day weekend ahead, she had high hopes for the rest of the fair, Sept. 2.

Girardi, of Boardman, said she is still pretty new in the game — she and her husband first got involved with concessions in 2014, and some vendors have been at the fair for decades. The citrus blend shake their stand sells is a crowd favorite, and helps them stand out.

“I have people looking for me now” at events, Girardi said.

Jerry Tarr, a supervisor for DeChellis Concessions, said their numbers this year have been higher than ever. Even with a slower Wednesday, the first day of the fair, they sold more than they did on the first day of the 2019 fair.

A pizza trailer the concessions company also owns went to the Lawrence County Fair, in Pennsylvania, recently, and was slammed all week. Tarr thinks that’s down to people being ready to get out to fairs and festivals again this year, after most were canceled or limited last year.

“I think they’re tired of being in the house,” he said.

Fairgoers walk around at the Canfield Fair.
Fairgoers walk the Canfield Fair in the morning, in Canfield, Ohio, Sept. 2. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

On track

Gregg Weaver, of Weaver’s Concessions, only takes his stand to three fairs each year. It’s a part time business for him, so he decided not to do any events in 2020. The return, in 2021, has been going well.

“So far, so good,” Weaver said. “We’re hoping for a good week with nice weather.”

Dave Kline, of Totally Nutz, takes his concessions stand to about 25 events every year, including some fairs and race car events as far as Texas.

“It’s challenging, but it’s nice to be back interacting with people,” said Kline.

Kline, of Butler, Pennsylvania, works the concession stand full time. His wife works there part time. Their goal is to eventually build up to the point that they can both do it full time. 2020 set their goals back, but within the next year or so, they are hoping to be back on track.

“We’re seeing things pick up,” Kline said.

A man stands behind the cash register at his food stand at the Canfield Fair.
Dave Kline, of Totally Nutz, prepares for another day at the Canfield Fair in the morning of Sept. 2. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

Fair food extravaganzas

Like several other fairs in the area, in 2020, the Canfield Fair hosted multiple fair food extravaganzas — drive thru events with food trucks — to use the grounds and help out vendors who didn’t have many events to work.

In addition to going to drive thru food events, DeChellis Concessions, like many concessionaires, worked with other businesses to set up stands in parking lots throughout 2020, Tarr said. Drive thru events didn’t really compare to going to a full fair or festival for most vendors, but it was better than nothing.

And while not every vendor went to the fair food extravaganzas, for some, it was a key part of their 2021 season. Kline made it to two. Other than those, he only had one other large event that season.

“They were a godsend to us,” Kline said.

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