Fair draws in thousands ahead of rainy days

Thousands fill the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds during the Bloomsburg Fair last year.

BLOOMSBURG — Confederate items — including the rebel flag — can be sold by vendors at this year's Bloomsburg Fair, after the 13-person board unanimously said they'd allow such sales, said a board member, Thursday night.

The decision on the display of Confederate merchandise comes a week before the Sept. 22 fair opens, and after the board had already decided against the sale of Nazi-related items, such as swastikas.

Bill Barratt, a board member and superintendent of police and parking, was contacted at 8 p.m., in the midst of the board meeting on Thursday.

"The vote about the sale of confederate items was unanimous," Barratt said. "We went back and forth on it. We talked for about 25 minutes. There is one vendor selling such items. He sold during our truck show and we had no problems. Largely based on that we thought it would be OK for him to sell at this year's fair."

Several calls to board members and to board president Paul Reichart for additional comments were not returned. Attempts to reach Bloomsburg Mayor Sandy Davis were also unsuccessful.

Dwayne Heisler, a political activist, of Bloomsburg, said he understood that the board was faced with a difficult decision.

"Nevertheless, fairs around the state have decided not to sell confederate items, because of the connotation and what it symbolizes to many people — discrimination, racism," Heisler said. "This is a time for us to be kind and I think displaying a Confederate flag is not an act of kindness."

Meanwhile, vendors have been told that "Nazi flags should not be brought out," Barratt said. "The man selling those flags on the fairgrounds last year won't be allowed on the fairgrounds."

As to Confederate flags, he said,  "If there are any offensive T-shirts they may want to sell, I will take that to the board of directors."

He said the approximately 1,000 vendors, many of whom sell food, have contracts with the fair. They are approved to sell what is listed on the contract.

"We will be monitoring it," Barratt said. "We can control what is sold on the fairgrounds. It is private property and our fairgrounds. We will say what is allowed and what is not allowed."

Last year, on the Monday of the fair, social media and threats against a vendor selling swastika flags led fair officials to ask the vendor to leave.

Lawrence Betsinger, 72, of Indiana, Pa., turned out to be a convicted sex offender. Fair officials reimbursed him $851 for rent for a space on the fairgrounds. Betsinger admitted to being convicted for downloading child pornography.

Daily Item reporter Karen Blackledge contributed to this article. Send comments to rdandes@dailyitem.com. Follow Dandes on Twitter @rdandes.