There’s no doubt that the Lebanon Area Fair is one of the biggest annual events in the county, drawing hundreds of performers and exhibitors, and thousands of fairgoers throughout week.

But how does it affect its neighbors?

The fairgrounds at the intersection of Rocherty and Cornwall roads, where the fair has been held since the 1970s, were once entirely rural and surrounded by farmland.

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But in the last decade or so, the crossroads have seen encroaching development, including the ongoing construction of North Cornwall Commons, an 81-acre mixed use development of townhouses, apartments, a nail salon, and a coffeehouse, with restaurants and more small businesses in the works.

Drone photo from July 2020 of the North Cornwall Commons development as seen from the entrance of the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center & Fairgrounds. Since this photo was taken, multiple new buildings have begun going up on the site, with the Fairfield Inn & Suites already open. (Will Trostel)
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The steady trend from rural to suburban is likely to continue, meaning the fair now has neighbors and will probably be getting more.

With that in mind, we contacted two North Cornwall Commons businesses across the street to learn how they see their neighbor and whether the fair and the many other events held at the fairgrounds impact their business.

Since both are new compared to the fair, this is still a developing story that should come into better focus in the years to come.

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Ancestor Coffee House & Creperie

According to co-owner Ally Stammel, the popular coffee house in the Commons’ small retail strip first opened in June 2019, and she noticed a dip in business during that year’s fair.

The following year didn’t give a better picture of the fair’s impact on her business, since both were operating under COVID restrictions in 2020, but she expected a similar decline this year.

Sitting at a corner table on Monday morning, Stammel said Ancestor’s business was actually down after the fair’s opening weekend. “Sunday was not a good day, and today [at 10 a.m.] isn’t good, either.”

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She noted that the fair is a self-contained world of its own. Food, drink, merchandise, socializing, and entertainment are everywhere inside the grounds.

“There’s a ton of food and coffee over there, and the fair is a huge community event, so people are thinking ‘fair’ this week, not just ‘coffee.'”

There’s also the physical barrier that makes Rocherty Road a little more than just across the street for “walk over” fairgoers who may want to leave and re-enter the fairgrounds, she said.

Pedestrians have to traverse a few hundred yards of open parking lot and then cross the busy roadway. There are turning restrictions for vehicles entering or leaving the fairgrounds.

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Rocherty Road does not offer a pedestrian crossing between North Cornwall Commons and the Lebanon Valley Expo Center. The Lebanon Valley Rail Trail, which runs along the tree line visible in the photo, provides one alternative route, albeit at two or three times the travel distance. (Will Trostel)

Plus, the retail strip where Ancestor is located sits at least a hundred yards back from both roads, meaning it isn’t easily visible to passing drivers, unlike the nearby hotel and a soon-to-open fast casual restaurant.

Stammel didn’t seem disappointed or discouraged by any of those obstacles, recognizing that the fair can only be good for business in the long run.

“We love the fair!” she said with a smile, adding that Ancestor is exploring the idea of having a booth at next year’s fair.

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“We are very interested in that,” Stammel said. “We almost did it our first year, but we got so busy our first few weeks that there was no way we could handle the logistics.”

Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites

The four-story hotel with 90 rooms and suites opened about three weeks ago across Rocherty Road from the fairgrounds, at the Cornwall Road entrance to North Cornwall Commons.

The hotel’s parking lot was nearly full on Saturday morning, and cars there displayed license plates from at least eight states.

Other than saying that they were almost full last weekend, management at the newly opened hotel declined to comment on whether the fair has had an impact on their business or whether any of the hotel’s guests were in town for the week-long event.

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They referred all calls to Marriott’s International’s corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. Calls there throughout Monday were not answered.

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