EATON — Moving throughout the midway at the Preble County Fair can often be a challenge.
Traffic flows both directions, with some heading toward the barns and show buildings while others head to the grandstand or to buy some tickets for rides. Others stand in lines leading to food vendors which often interfere with those moving in any direction, with countless people lined up at the various food options present throughout the fairground.
While rides and grandstand events are not present at the 2020 Preble County Fair, one of the quintessential aspects of any good county fair is: food.
Despite almost every non-junior fair event being canceled (the exception being harness racing, which took place Sunday afternoon), food vendors offering the likes of pizza, sirloin, ice cream, lemonade and even fried alligator, line both sides of the midway, offering options to those involved with junior fair, many of whom will remain at the fairgrounds until Aug. 8.
Long days of 4-H involvement can result in a ravenous group of people, but attendance at the Preble County Fairgrounds will inevitably be lower this year with only junior fair exhibitors allowed along with those whom they distribute their allotted six wristbands to.
For longtime Preble County Fair attendee Lorrie Ullery, who owns Ullery’s Homemade Ice Cream along with her husband Rob, even with the lower attendance, they never considered not setting up this year.
“No. We were planning on coming,” she said. “I got my schedule all figured out on Tuesday, and then that was when it all hit, but we were just waiting to find out we could go.”
Additionally, their business has been hurting over the past few months with few events to attend, so skipping the Preble County Fair was never in the cards.
“There’s a concern because everything I’ve been doing is canceled,” she said. “I have to go and make money. I’ve been sitting up at [Tractor Supply Center] in Eaton to get money. I mean, my business is just, it’s hurting, bad. So we’ve got to go where we can go and there was no consideration of not ever being here.”
Ullery’s has been a mainstay at the fair for years, but some new vendors don’t have the benefit of building up that goodwill with fair attendees over the years.
Pizza on a Stick debuted this year, and despite uncertainty with how many people may attend, manager Jimmy Swaim said they decided to stick it out anyways.
“Just figured we’d try it out,” he said. “I mean, it’s our first year coming up here.”
Swaim said they are hopeful for a good week, though they said it will be weather dependent with showers prevalent throughout the first weekend at the fair.
Along with Pizza on a Stick, Sirloin Tip Dinner set up shop for the first time at the Preble County Fair near the grandstand.
Located around the Dayton area, manager Jamey Wensel said they have already made their mark at the Darke County Fair and were looking to branch out this year.
“We do Darke County Fair and most people know us here,” he said. “They know our food and we’re real popular in Darke County. So, we line them up every day there, every evening, about five o’clock we got a line — can’t see the end of it.”
While they are used to having lines, that likely will not be a major concern this year with limited attendance. Despite the possibility of low sales, Wensel said they decided it would be good to come out.
“Yeah, my boss had to make a choice, and he figured, ‘Well, we’re ain’t gonna make no money with him sitting at home,’ so we might as well get out here and try to feed the people that are doing all the animals and 4-H,’” Wensel said.
Despite the limited amount of people allowed to attend the 2020 Preble County Fair, each of the vendors agree business had been okay through the opening weekend.
“We’ve been steady,” Ullery said. “A little busier than I thought. It’s turning out good for us.”
She said Preble County has been good to them for all the years they’ve been at the fair, and that people still come at night for ice cream.
“Pretty good,” Swain said about business on Sunday morning. “It’s 4-H kids and everything so they come out and support everybody.”
While Wensel was not quite as optimistic as Ullery or Swain with regard to foot traffic so far, he said business was “alright.”
“I mean, we’re used to lines,” he said. “And most of the people, like I said, they know our foods and our reputation.”
Despite the challenges of this year, including the two new vendors attending the Preble County Fair, all agreed they will be once again be ready when the 2021 Preble County Fair rolls around.
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @BradenMoles