The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


September 20, 2012

Vendors, officials ready for Bloomsburg Fair

BLOOMSBURG — There are 250 pots of mums awaiting visitors to Turbotville Landscape & Supply’s booth at the 157th annual Bloomsburg Fair, which kicks off Saturday. And the joy in owner Ryan Ossont’s voice was evident.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “I enjoy being there, plus the people you meet, business and customers — the whole thing is wonderful.”

Ossont set up benches by his own creation: a stone firepit. Once the sun sets, people are welcome to come sit and warm up by it — and think how nice it would be to have one of their own.

Ossont’s “booth” is really a 20- by 55-foot space filled with fall flowers, garden supplies and the wood-pellet stoves that so many people check out at the fair and either purchase there or later at his Turbotville store.

“I’ll be happy with whatever we do there,” Ossont said of business at the fair, returning after last year’s devastating floods canceled the event for the first time ever and cut off what had been a steady revenue stream for nearly 1,000 regular vendors.

The fairgrounds are mostly recovered from about $2.5 million in damages, said Paul Reichart, fair board president.

Because the fair is run by a nonprofit organization, it was not eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. The group took out a $1.4 million loan to cover repairs and cleanup. The rest came from many donations and a small amount of money from Pennsylvania because it’s a state fair, Reichart said.

To help pay off the loan, admission has gone up to $8 a person. And what had been a free preview day before the gates opened now costs $3 to get in.

In 2010, while charging $5 per ticket, the fair brought in $1.58 million in gate revenue, according to tax filings. That means about 316,000 people paid to visit the fair. If the fair attracts a comparable number of visitors this year, the extra $3 a head would translate into about $948,000 in additional revenue. Other 2010 revenue included $965,000 in concession fees and $914,000 in attraction admissions for a total of $3.4 million.

The Columbia-Montour Chamber of Commerce does not have specific local economic impact numbers from the fair’s absence last year, President Fred Gaffney said. But everyone seems to know it was big.

“When (the fair) brings an additional 400,000 customers past your location, not having all that foot traffic is a lot to lose,” Gaffney said.

Bloomsburg, however, knows what it lost: $152,000 had been budgeted in 2011 amusement tax collections, said Heather Jacoby, the town’s finance director.

“That hurt us, the local vendors around the area who rely on that,” she said. For 2012, the amusement tax is budgeted at $158,000.

The amusement tax usually keeps other expenses at bay, such as property taxes. But Jacoby said there was no rise in real estate millage because of the many FEMA reimbursements residents qualified for due to flood damage.

Buyouts through the Hazard Mitigation Grant process are under way, especially near the fairgrounds, Jacoby said. She expects that work and funding will continue into 2013.

Recovery “is a very long process,” she said, “and it takes a long time.”

Meanwhile, this year, Gaffney said, the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau will work with fair officials to track financial data and determine economic impact in several areas, including local and regional business and fair revenue.

A vendor at the fair for about 10 years, Ossont said he’s unsure how much revenue he lost without it last year. He was able to make up for some through an ad campaign, he said.

But this year, he’s ready. “I can’t wait to see everyone,” he said.

Gaffney agreed and predicts near-record crowds.

“It’s fair weather,” he said of the forecast for cool, crisp and mostly sunny days. “It will be really spiritually uplifting for a lot of people. You find yourself in certain locations talking to people, saying remember a year ago, when we didn’t have power? ... The smell of fall is in the air, and you know the fair is here.”

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