No matter how you define success, many would agree that this year’s fair was one. It welcomed record crowds. It finished well in the black financially. And it accomplished what it set out to do – promote local agriculture.
But perhaps most importantly, this year’s Lebanon Area Fair brought people together and had a positive impact on the Lebanon community overall.
“When I look back on it, it’s with a feeling of satisfaction that it was a tremendous success,” said Dan Siegel, chairman of the Lebanon Area Fair board. “We met our basic mission of showcasing the work of groups like 4H, FFA and home economics. We had great participation, from both youth and adults. And we had many people attending the fair for the first time.”
“When we assess it, we ask ourselves, ‘Did we achieve success in our base programs, like the competitions and the exhibits?’” continued Siegel. “‘Have we maintained our numbers in certain areas? Did we have financial success? Did we have enough people coming in, and getting value for their money?’”
We are less than a week removed from the conclusion of the 65th annual Lebanon Area Fair, which ran from July 24 to 31 at the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center and Fairgrounds. While the site of the fair is now eerily quiet, Siegel and the rest of the fair’s organizers are using this time to reflect on 2021’s success, without resting on their laurels.
This year’s Lebanon Area Fair drew more than 60,000 visitors during the week, a figure including 47,548 fairgoers after 3 p.m., thousands of fairgoers before 3 p.m., and hundreds of volunteers, exhibitors, and vendors. Most of the people who attended the fair were local residents, but there was also a fair representation from outside of Lebanon County.
“It was absolutely a record-breaker,” said Siegel. “We were coming off some pretty rough years. (Year) 2018 was a complete wash-out, 2019 was an okay year and, of course, last year was COVID-19. The weather obviously played a role.”
“We probably had the best weather we could’ve asked for,” he added. “When it’s sunny and 80 degrees with little threat of rain, it’s a great night to take the family out to the fair. From talking to people, they were just eager to get back to the fair. They told me, ‘COVID-19 cheated you out of a year.’ It was sort of time to go back. I talked to many people who told me it was their first time there.”
Financially, the 65th edition of the county fair was a hit as well. But because of all the receipts that have yet to be counted and the outstanding bills that have yet to be paid, the exact extent to which the annual fair was a financial success has yet to be calculated.
“The dust has to settle on that,” said Siegel. “But I can guarantee you that it’s going to be a profitable year. I don’t have a bottom-line number right now, but without a doubt, it was a good year financially. We are an entirely volunteer organization, so that money will go back into the facility and [be] used to get ready for next year.”
“There was a tremendous amount of growth in the attendance,” he added. “People were coming to see the free entertainment, the performers, the circus, the petting zoo. The events at the track were at max capacity, and they remained popular, but most of the growth seemed to be in the midway area. There were a lot of people who came before 3 o’clock, the time period during the day when there was no other entertainment going on.”
It would certainly be a stretch to say that this year’s Lebanon Area Fair went off without a hitch. But through years of repetition, trial and error, and fine-tuning, the organizers of the fair have come to understand what works and what doesn’t work.
That may very well be the key to the fair’s overall success, year after year.
“We’re always learning,” said Siegel. “We’ll have a postmortem and look at what we did right and the areas we need to improve. Do we have some areas to work out, some fixers? Yes. There’s always room for improvement.”
“Why people came back, that’s really hard to say,” Siegel continued. “For me, it’s the tradition. Your grandparents always took you to the fair, and now you’re taking your grandchildren. For many, it’s an affordable thing to do. Last year, during all of this [COVID-19 pandemic], there was a concern about how to stay relevant. It was pretty obvious we remained relevant.”
In many ways, preparations for the 2022 Lebanon County Area Fair have already begun. That extensive planning element is another key to the fair’s continued success, along with the tireless dedication offered by the hundreds of local volunteers who execute the plans.
“It’s [having the next one be better than the current one] always your goal,” said Siegel. “This one is going to be a hard one to beat. You’re talking about next year’s fair even during the current one. The entertainment committee is already talking about which acts they want to bring back. The planning has already started.”
“We’ll definitely spend August and most of September and October meeting as a board, and all of the committees will have their meetings as well,” he noted. “We’ll try to determine what needs to be locked in, sooner rather than later. In earnest, the planning probably begins around the start of the new year. It’s something you never really take a break from or shut down.”
Given its place in Lebanon County and the role it plays in our community, the future of the fair remains bright. Quite simply, the tradition of the Lebanon Area Fair makes the county a better place to live.
“The attendance was staggering and encouraging,” said Siegel. “We didn’t have any huge issues, and we were able to do something again we all love. There’s an enjoyment that comes from seeing people talking to people. So much credit goes to the people on the board and the volunteers. These are people taking off work just to give. It’s amazing the sheer number of people it takes to make it work.”
“I’m just the chairman of a wonderful organization and a wonderful group of people,” he concluded. “Everybody brings something to the table, and we create something out of nothing. It’s amazing how a group of people can make something like the fair spring up.
“There really is something for everyone at the fair.”
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