Dedicated volunteers and a conservative approach to spending have contributed to the longevity of the Shippensburg Community Fair.
A $5 parking fee is a major source of income for the fair, said Jamie Rhine, assistant secretary/treasurer and public relations/advertising chair for the Shippensburg Community Fair board of directors. Unlike other major fairs in the region, the fair board believes that anyone should be able to walk in and enjoy the fair for free.
The fair also receives a percentage from the sales of ride tickets, a percentage of gross sales from food vendors and charges fees to commercial vendors. Events like the tractor pull and demolition derby also provide income as does renting the fairgrounds for events like September’s Uprise Christian music festival. The fair also rents out a portion of its 150-plus acre property for farming.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture also supports the fair as it does fairs across the state, which bring together two of the state’s top industries — agriculture and tourism. That support helps to pay for the prizes given out in the various fair exhibits.
“Our fair pays well in excess of $35,000 per year in prize money,” Rhine said.
The flip side of creating income is knowing how and when to spend it, and the fair board has a track record of conservative spending over the past few decades.
“We’ve done a good job of making sure we’re saving money on things,” Rhine said.
That work has given the fair a cushion in the event that any single year is plagued by bad weather. Heavy rains can make a mess of parking areas, and rain early in the day can deter people from going to the fair.
“It’s not always fun being involved in an industry that’s so reliant on the weather,” Rhine said.
He said there would be cause for concern about the fair’s future only if there are a few bad years in a row.
Being conservative doesn’t mean needed projects are ignored. The off-season has seen paving projects, roofing and other improvements get underway, and the fair’s office recently underwent an extensive renovation and addition, which was completed without taking on any debt.
The new office building will be dedicated Sunday to Frank Lerew, the founding president of the fair. Lerew served the fair for 50 years, and died last November.
“He was well into his 80s when he was still involved in the fair,” Rhine said.
Volunteers are also essential to the continuing success of the 60-year-old event.
Church groups and sports teams, for example, help to collect the parking fee and assist with parking cars. In return, the fair board makes a donation to the group.
Short-term volunteers are not as difficult to find but, like other volunteer organizations, the fair has its challenges in finding volunteers for the year-round work. Rhine said the fair board will meet three weeks after the fair to talk about how the fair went, and it will start to plan the 2018 fair soon after.
“We only have one month of no meetings, and that’s December,” Rhine said.
There is continuity in the all-volunteer leadership of the fair as the executive committee of the fair board includes back-ups for key positions. There are two vice-presidents serving alongside the president, and an assistant secretary/treasurer serves with the secretary/treasurer. The remainder of the fair board is made up of the committee chairs. Those committees all have enough active members so that someone could step up if the fair board lost someone unexpectedly, Rhine said.
Many of the board members have served for a long time, and Rhine is confident in the continuity of the board. It’s the food stands that worry him more than anything.
Area fire companies, churches and scout groups operate the food stands that provide one of the fair’s major attractions.
“For a lot of groups, it’s the biggest fundraiser they do,” Rhine said.
But it takes work. Finding people to do that work can be a challenge. Rhine said some organizations have had to sell their stands to other organizations because they didn’t have volunteers to operate them during the fair.
The reliance on volunteers may have it’s drawbacks in that it doesn’t give the fair board capacity to do many other events on the fairgrounds. That lack of potential commercialization, however, helps to maintain the fair’s traditions.
“It would change our model so much that it would hurt a lot of other things,” Rhine said.