The inaugural Lackawanna County Heritage Fair is quickly approaching, with organizers working hard to lay the foundation for what is intended to become a proud annual tradition.
The fair will take place May 29-June 2 at Montage Mountain Resorts, and will feature a sprawling midway packed with rides, live entertainment, crafters, exhibitors, heritage and civic organizations, and local churches serving up classic Northeast Pennsylvania ethnic foods.
Admission to the fair is $10. For advance tickets or more information, visit lackawannacountyheritagefairs.com.
Agritourism has become big business in recent years, and fair organizers are optimistic the fair will eventually become a self-sustaining economic powerhouse for Lackawanna County.
“Local food, local crafts, local heritage — we’re trying to put the emphasis on that. It’s not the typical county fair,” said local attorney Armand Olivetti, chairman of the fair’s board and the Lackawanna County Fair and Recreation Authority.
Of course, many steps were needed to get the fair concept up and running.
From the beginning, fair organizers have been working closely with representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s PA Fair Fund to comply with the strict regulations that come with trying to achieve probationary status. Ultimately, Olivetti said, the goal is for the fair to be completely self-sustaining operation that requires no county funding.
With a big learning curve in front of them, Olivetti and the other fair board members spent last summer touring a number of fairs both regionally and throughout the state.
“Everyone we talked to was helpful. And they fed us,” Olivetti said with a laugh. “Pretty much everyone told us, ‘Slow down. Learn before you do it big.’ You don’t realize how many details go into it. But everyone has the same idea, which is, ‘How do you put on a good fair that people will enjoy?’ After all, we want to make this a people’s fair.”
The PA Fair Fund’s business model includes the category of “heritage,” which made sense from the board’s standpoint considering the county’s rich ethnic traditions stemming back to the heyday of anthracite coal mining. Plus, Olivetti noted, it wouldn’t have made much sense to try to compete with the more rural-minded focus of popular local fairs like Harford and Wayne County.
Toni Graytock, a veteran of both of those fairs, was tapped by the board to serve as the Heritage Fair’s operations manager. Her presence makes a huge difference, considering the logistics involved in the planning, from determining the number of portable restrooms and Dumpsters needed, to separating all the recycling, to making sure everything is ADA-compliant.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been very successful so far. It’s really coming along great,” said Graytock, noting fair vendors and volunteers are still being sought. “You know what makes it easy – the people involved. They don’t argue or fight; they work well with you. That’s what makes it a fair – everyone working together for the same goal. That way, you’ll have a successful event.”
Because the county doesn’t have a dedicated fairgrounds, the board needed a location with the right infrastructure to support the fair. Montage proved to be the perfect choice, given its ample space, plentiful parking and waterpark, which fairgoers will have access to with the purchase of their ticket.
For the fair’s dates, the board decided on the weekend after Memorial Day so it wouldn’t conflict with popular events like Jessup’s St. Ubaldo Day. Also, it ensures that it’s not in competition with Harford, Wayne County and other late-summer fairs. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are in town that weekend, and the fair is partnering with them that Sunday for a Family Day joint ticket.
As far as attractions go, Scott Twp.-based business SwikaS Amusements will provide the rides, and there will be other fair staples such as a 4-H booth, a women’s lumberjack sports group, and a limited livestock component.
Currently, the fair has about 60 committed vendors, Graytock said. The list includes various crafters and artisans — glass blowers, wood carvers, pottery makers, etc. – as well as wineries and craft brewers, and local churches and organizations specializing in ethnic food, from Italian to Eastern European to Lebanese.
In addition, the fair will feature: informational booths manned by representatives of local colleges and nonprofits; live readings and children’s activities courtesy of the staff of the Lackawanna County Library System; children’s theater performances by CaPAA; magic by Damian the Magician; puppet shows; pet adoptions by Griffin Pond Animal Shelter; dancers from Civic Ballet; and live music by local church choirs, numerous local bands and even an opera singer. The festivities on Saturday, June 1, will include a fireworks extravaganza that evening.
If all goes to plan, organizers expect about 30,000 to 40,000 people to visit the fair over its five days.
The build-up is stressful, yet exciting, Olivetti said.
“Right now, everyone is anxious to make this thing work,” he said. “We just hope people will come out and support the fair in its inaugural year.”
“The people of Lackawanna County should be very happy with this fair,” Graytock added. “I think they’re going to be amazed.”