AUGUSTA — The Hampshire County fair did well this year–good news for scholarship applicants at Hampshire High School. Exactly 5,806 people purchased admission at the gates–only 5% better than last year, but people were generous once inside the gates.
Receipts taken in during fair week totaled almost $100,000,
This amount will shrink a great deal as bills are paid. It will take months before everything is taken care of and the money left over is distributed to the Ruritan clubs who worked to provide food and entertainment to fairgoers.
Clubs use the money for community service, most of it going to fund scholarships for Hampshire High graduates in the coming year.
Central to the fair’s success was a big increase in sales at the snack bar–known as “the little kitchen” to Ruritans who staff it. Fair receipts as a whole had gone up just 17% over last year–but snack bar receipts were up over 37%.
The snack bar is always the biggest moneymaker on the fairgrounds, despite complaints that made it clear people would use it more if buying food could be made a little easier.
Assistant fair chair Duane “Punkin” Oates reported hearing from too many people that they were avoiding the snack bar because the lines were too long.
A cumbersome system in which people paid at a separate booth before bringing their cash register receipts to the snack bar windows to collect the food had people eating at home before going to the fair or seeking food elsewhere, Oates learned
The system had not worked well for kitchen workers either, who had both to wrap food and to serve people waiting at the windows, and wrapped food stored in a warmer that made it difficult to tell when supplies were low.
Oates was shopping at the Slanesville General Store when he came up with a better idea. Looking at the prepared food kept warm on servers fed from the back that allowed customers to help themselves, he realized that something similar would work at the fairgrounds.
In early July, as fairgrounds preparations were in their final stages, Oates was building a fence in front of the snack bar to direct fairgoers past the snack bar windows to a cashier’s booth at the end of the line.
Wrappers of different colors had always been used for snack bar food–needed for kitchen workers to be able to tell a hamburger from a cheeseburger from a ham sandwich as they retrieved food from the warmers.
Oates set up dispensers in each window offering different choices to be added to a food buyer’s tray–hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and chilidogs at the first, French fries and chicken at the second and country ham at the third. The different colored wrappers told cashiers at the end of the line what had been purchased, so they could quickly total the bill.
It worked: lines were short and moved quickly past the windows. Kitchen workers could see when supplies were running low, and no longer tripping over each other gathering food for customers.
At the end of the fair, Oates reported the new system had been easier both for fairgoers and the Ruritan clubs who staffed the snack bar.
Will the same system be used next year? Maybe.
Oates said he would like to have directed fairgoers buying food through the building rather than using the windows to dispense food outside. By the time he came up with his plan for cafeteria service his year there was no time to work it out.
Whether food pick-up is done inside or out next year, though, the cafeteria-style service is here to stay.
Oats does dream someday of being able to renovate the fair’s original dining hall - the building near the main entrance now housing tables for some fair vendors - into a snack bar. The building has a wood floor and high ceiling because people once played basketball there, he says. It is one of the oldest buildings on the fairgrounds.
Renovating it would be costly, requiring some source of funding currently lacking - a substantial grant, Oates suggests, acknowledging this is not likely to happen anytime soon.
In the meantime, the improved food service helped bring in the money the Ruritans will be using for scholarships next year, more than compensating for declining sales in the dining hall and a slight dip in proceeds at the soda stand.