Vendors Balance Inflation, Supply Concerns at Columbiana Fair

LISBON – The smells and tastes of the Columbiana County Fair are ready to draw visitors to some of their fair food favorites this week.

The fair, which opened Monday, is a celebration of agriculture with competitions  and summer fun for young and old.   

Despite the rise in their costs, vendors say they are trying to keep food prices reasonable for families.

Sisters Diana Chambers and Laura Schmucker and their husbands operate an Old Fashion Root Beer stand at the fairgrounds.

Laura Schmucker and Diana Chambers, sisters and operators with their husbands of Old Fashion Root Beer, a farm to table business.

“We want to come out to a fair because we are associated with agriculture,” Chambers said. “We want people to be able to buy for the whole family, so we make it as affordable as possible.”

Their business is farm to table, as much as possible. In addition to the homemade root beer, Chambers said they raise their own beef. A steak burger and a Philly cheesesteak are listed at the top of the menu.

Still, the price of the fuel to farm, the grain to feed the cattle and the sugar for the root beer have all jumped dramatically this year.

Several vendors commented they are happy the fair board left the price to rent a vending space the same, which was helping some. Fair board secretary Michelle Crawford said there was no increase to the fair’s cost to rent to vendors so there was no reason to raise rates for them. Vendors have responded and seem to be back.

Crawford said she believes the vendor spots are full or at least more so than last year.

Jeff Sickle, one of the owners of Ziggy’s, which has six food stands at the fairgrounds this year, said in 2020 there was a strong economy and he had been hoping for a good year. But then the pandemic forced the cancelation of almost all public events. That obstacle was followed by last year’s supply chain concerns and this year’s  inflation.

The price of sugar rose from $1.98 to $2.85 for the same-size package and the oil needed to fry the elephant ears climbed from between $15 to $17, to $41, according to Davine Sickle.

“It’s nice that we’re all back together again,” said Jeff Sickle. “We’re just taking it year-by-year and seeing how it goes.”

At a stand next door, the owner said the price of a 50-pound box of potatoes rose from around $18 to $37.50.

Nancy Stark of Kick’n Chicken said she and her husband, Bob, had to raise the prices of many things on their menu by $1.

A box of boneless wings now costs $100, sauces doubled from $12 to $25 per case, cheese increased $7 and potatoes doubled from $19 to $40. Even the price of gas needed to operate the stand has doubled from $200 to $400.

“Making a whole lot of money probably isn’t in the cards,” Stark said, “But I don’t want to price myself right out of business.”

An employee at a hand-dipped corn dog stand said last year the stand could not get enough supplies and ran out by 8 p.m. each day. This year, the costs have forced the stand to raise the price from $3.50 to $5.

Supply chain issues are affecting other vendors too. A big display of tractors and equipment is always a big part of the fair.

Putting the display together was tougher this year, said Brad Sell, general manager of LandPro Equipment in East Palestine. Just getting enough of the equipment for the business’ showroom has been difficult because of the shortage of computer chips used in the John Deere machinery sold there. The lack of sales models meant pooling resources with other stores in the chain to find extra equipment to bring to the fair.

Another piece of equipment visitors can see at this year’s fair is the Columbiana County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trailer, which has been newly equipped with the assistance of the county commissioners. CERT Director Debra Moore was showing off the trailer Monday.

The trailer allows the CERT trained volunteers to respond to emergencies, and assist in light search and rescue efforts, damage assessments, flood assistance and to set up warming and cooling shelters. Equipped with radio equipment and a telescoping antenna, the CERT trailer allows for remote communications with other emergency services like the sheriff’s office, EMA and fire departments.

Also at this year’s county fair:

  • A pollinator garden has been added in front of the arts and crafts building. Crawford said it will include a butterfly encounter, where visitors can see both live butterflies and a display of the process changing from larvae to cocoon to butterfly.
  • A new Ready Go Dog Show with trained rescued dogs.
  • The Agricultural Hall of Fame will honor the late Clark Z. Chamberlain and Beulah Converse.
  • Three new restroom units were added throughout the fairgrounds this year for visitors, including one with more showers for those working or showing at the fairgrounds.
  • Rides will begin at 1 p.m. today and continue through Sunday.
  • The cost of the fair is $10 all day. There is no price break for coming earlier as in past years.
  • Presale tickets for the grandstand events are available at the Lee Avenue gate office from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Tickets go on sale at the grandstand between 5 and 8 p.m. daily. The grandstand is hosting bike night and draft horse pulling, Tuesday; mutton busting and SEBRA Extreme Bull Riding and Barrel Racing, Wednesday; KOI drag racing, Thursday; Smoke and Noise truck and tractor pull, Friday; Power Pull truck and tractor pull Saturday; and both the combine and Smash It Car demolition derbies on Sunday.

Pictured at top: Brad Sell, general manager of the LandPro Equipment in East Palestine, was setting up a display of farm equipment at the Columbiana County Fairgrounds on Monday.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.