After 173 Years, Canfield Fair Still Brings the Green
CANFIELD, Ohio – The Canfield Fair has been serving the community as an industry unto itself for 173 years, bringing hundreds of thousands of people every year and, with them, millions of dollars into the local economy.
In 2014, a study by Youngstown State University placed the fair’s economic impact at more than $6 million for the two-week period surrounding the Canfield Fair. Today, George Roman III, director of entertainment and concessions, is confident that number has edged north of $10 million.
“[The fair] brings people into our community, which then we can showcase all of Mahoning County and specifically Canfield,” he said. “Everybody has a product they sell or produce. They want to get as many people to look at those items.”
Grocery stores, gas stations or any place that has a retail or wholesale product they want to sell bring product to the fair, Roman said.
“Schwebel’s, Nickels, Pepsi and Coke all bring product to the fair,” he said. “Hotels are booked for the whole area, so it spreads wide and far, and it’s just not Mahoning County. We get it from Columbiana, Trumbull and western Pennsylvania.”
The economic impact and importance of the Canfield Fair cannot be overstated, said Linda Macala, executive director of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau. With the fair drawing close to 500,000 people every year, “the economic impact is huge,” she added.
“There are people who make day trips just for the fair, but those people may stop and put gas in their car on the way out. They may need something at a local pharmacy or store,” she said. “They’re going to the fair, they’re enjoying themselves, but the chances are there’s other things that contribute to the economy that happen when these people come for day trips.”
The fair is a family tradition for many people, Macala said. There are people who camp on the fairgrounds, but there are people who stay in the local hotels who want to make it an overnight stay, she added.
The Hampton Inn and Suites in Canfield is the host hotel of the fair, said Mike Naffah, president and CEO of Naffah Hospitality Group. During the six-day period of the fair, hotel rooms are sold out every year, with people coming from as far as California. Some visitors booked their rooms for this weekend during last year’s Canfield Fair, he added.
“[The fair] brings in people from throughout the country, but a lot of it is people who have grown up in Canfield coming back for Labor Day and the fair,” he said. “There are a lot of reunions, people coming back to visit family, so they plan it around the fair. We all grew up going to the fair every single day. It’s a big part of our lives.”
“Every hotel is full” all the way to Austintown and to Columbiana County because of the fair, said Dave Dickey, Canfield Fair board president. Since it’s his last year as president, Dickey said it’s been enlightening to support the other directors.
“It’s not one person that takes the whole fair to make the fair unique as it is,” he said. “This year’s theme is Miles of Smiles and every time you look at people coming into the gate, they’re smiling. When they leave, they’re smiling. When they’re on the rides, they’re smiling. It’s something that makes these directors come back.”
The directors of the fair and staff members are not the only ones coming back to the fair every year. The fair has been a part of Bob Ridzon and his family for 50 years. Although he is not relying on the Canfield Fair to make a living, it is something Ridzon enjoys doing as a hobby.
“I have a lemon shake trailer and the salt water taffy stand,” the vendor said. “My dad started with [the salt water taffy] and then my mom would do lemon shakes, so we just had both trailers all these years.”
By having a full-time job, Ridzon only goes to three fairs every year: the Columbiana County Fair, the Canfield Fair and the Columbiana Street Fair. Getting into the street fair is different than the others because it’s smaller. Getting into the Canfield Fair and the Columbiana County Fair have similar processes.
“The contracts work the same, the paperwork, the fees,” he said. “When you’ve been doing it for 50 years, it’s kind of in the blood and you just come out and do it. To make money with it, that’s not really what it is.”
The Canfield Fair is close to home for the salt water taffy vendor, so it serves as more of a social event for him and his family because they know many of the attendees, he said. But, sometimes it can be challenging because making taffy is a laborious process, he added.
“As much of a pain as it is to do, I do it for the people because they like to see us come out,” Ridzon said.
Another vendor making it to the fair for more than 50 years is Faith McGee, co-owner of Molnar’s Concessions. What started out as a small, french fry trailer grew to the cinnamon rolls in 1984 and has expanded ever since.
“We’ve added pumpkin rolls and glazed donuts to a couple of different stands, so we just keep trying for what people want,” McGee said. “This fair is probably about a third of our growth for the year, so it’s very important to us to have a good weather week. This is our sole income.”
While Rizdon is just involved in the fair as a hobby, McGee said Molnar’s fortunes are different. If there is bad weather during the week of the fair, the business inevitably drops off, she said.
“All of our eggs are in one basket here,” she said. “We have a diverse product where if we have a really hot fair, our lemonades will do well. If we have cooler weather, our food does really well. The cinnamon rolls do well no matter what. Everybody likes them for breakfast or they take them home for dessert.”
Other popular items at the fair include the Killer and the Twister, which are coffee drinks with combinations of caramel, vanilla, chocolate and milk. Leslie Ribblett, who manages the two-stand The Coffee Shop, said people love them regardless if they are iced or hot.
“I’m very impressed with this fair,” she said. “I like how things are set up and people here are very kind. I like being involved here and how the kids in 4-H get involved. It’s so good for their lives.”
There is a large, agricultural community within the fair, said Ward Campbell, a junior fair director and vice president. However, since only 2% of the state’s population are farmers, it’s hard for people to realize what agriculture means to Ohio and the fair, he added.
“A lot of 4-Hers use the money they make from selling their animals to go to college,” he said. “It’s gratifying to see these kids grow into men and women, and see them staying in agriculture because a lot of these kids didn’t grow up on farms.”
Smaller animals, like goats and sheep at the fair, earn only a $100 to $200 profit, Campbell said. Many of the parents of the 4-Hers pay the bill and all the money they get at the sale goes towards anything ranging from college to car insurance, he added.
“A lot of times, they’ll buy next year’s projects with what they make, so if they made a little bit they can go and buy a higher quality animal for the next sale,” he said.
Since the 1960s, DiRusso’s Sausage Inc. has been making the Canfield Fair a priority as well. Dante DiRusso, concessions operations manager, said he is working from April through October at county and street fairs in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but he makes time for the Canfield Fair every year.
“For me, this is THE fair,” DiRusso said. “My parents ran a stand here when I was little, so I’ve been coming to this fair since I was little. This is like the big show for me and one of the most well run fairs in the area.”
Water treatment, drinking water and bottled water is also available to attendees. Bo Cooksey, of Cooksey’s Culligan Water Conditioning in Youngstown, said the company has been coming to the Canfield Fair for almost 70 years.
“I think we’re the third-oldest vendor here at Canfield and it’s a big to-do for us,” he said. “I chuckle every year. There’s always quite a few people who come into the tent and say, ‘We waited all year to see you.’ I like telling everybody we have a storefront in Youngstown. We’re operating the other 300-and-some days a year.”
Existing customers come through the water company’s booth and Cooksey is guaranteed the same spot at the fair every year as long as he wants to have it, he said.
“It’s an awesome fair, there’s tons to do here, there’s a ton of traffic that comes through here,” he said. “Everybody in the Valley enjoys coming to the fair. The only bad part about the fair is it kind of signifies the end of summer.”
Pictured: Carlie Guzman, Gina Solomon, Alaina Kapturasky and Faith McGee work at Molnar’s Concessions, which has been attending the Canfield Fair for more than 50 years.
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.