It’s that time again. The Strates Train has pulled into Hamburg and in just a few short days my favorite event of the year will be here, The Erie County Fair!

The Erie County Agricultural Society is a private not-for-profit membership corporation, which annually produces the Erie County Fair.  The Society is the oldest civic organization in western New York, established in 1819.  The Society does not receive funding from New York State or from the County of Erie.

The first fair was held in 1820! It moved to Hamburg in 1868 and has been there ever since! This is the 176th year and last year was the 3rd largest county fair and in my opinion, is better than the NYS Fair.

The count down for me begins late May, when I start deciding what I want to enter for the photography competition. The creative arts competition is located in the grandstands. You can check the fair’s websites to find the different categories if you wish to enter. There is a very small entry fee of $20 and you get FIVE passes to the fair.

Bob and I have entered every year since 2009. The first year I was too intimidated to try the professional divisions. We made a rookie mistake and tried to mount our own pictures to foam core board. The cuts were uneven and the images bubbled. Despite the flaws, Yui won an honorable mention/third place in the amature animals category.

first entry at the fair

My Third Place Kitty

After checking out the professional divisions, Bob and I decided we could def. hang with that crowd and have competed there ever since, with various degrees of success.

Last year, Bob was honored with Best in Show. Seven earned me first place.

Seven won the blue ribbon at the erie county fair 2014

The Blue Ribbon Kitty. He doesn’t let you forget it.

After registering for the competition, I mark on the calendar when we are to turn in our entries. Despite having an entire year to figure it, inevitably one of us will scramble at the last minute to finalize our entries. Last year, it was me with the Seven entry. This year it is Bob with his Rum bottle entry.

When we bring the entries in, the Strates Show has not yet arrived, except a couple of pieces of equipment that is sent early (I saw the wild mouse ride parts this year). However, you can see spaces already being marked off and a couple of food trucks in place. The property the fair is on is huge and has so many nooks and crannies. It really is something to see it so empty and knowing that in a short time how packed it will be!

We always go opening day.

Part of us knows it will be super crowded with $2 parking and $2 admission sponsored by Channel 2. Also, if you bring in canned food on opening day for the food drive, you will receive free admission! (Channel 4 sponsors $4 parking and $4 admissions the following day, and new this year Channel 7 will sponsor $4 admission on the 18th. If you are a veteran, you will get a free admission on the 16th!)

After we manage to find a parking place and hand in one of our ticket, we go straight to the creative arts exhibit to see how we did. The prizes are small – they are far less than the costs to enter, but the bragging rights are awesome! We take some time and check out the other entries in the whole building. Since we know we will be back several times, we do not take too long.

Then I scurry to The Wonderful World of Maple. I’m sure the building has a real name, but I never bothered to learn it. Because it is The Wonderful World of Maple. The only way it could get better is if it were hosted by Walt Disney. First, I get Maple Ice Cream. Then a Maple-ccino. Then I debate on another ice cream or if I want maple cotton candy. While I am deciding, I taste maple syrup samples.

At this point Bob is weeping, so I get the cotton candy so I can eat it on the way to the main exhibition hall where you can see all the various goods and contraptions people try to sell. If it makes food, we sample. We usually stop at the jerky stand and get a little stock up to eat for the protein. Last year, I bought a bandana for Scooby Dee. It says “I have issues” HA HA so true. This year, if the vendor is back I have a print for her with Scooby wearing it.

Scooby Dee has Issues!

Scooby Dee has Issues!

If we haven’t already, we hit a food truck that is not too far from the main exhibitors hall that sells pineapple-lemonade. We take our refillable fair cup, so we can save a few bucks. Not only is it very tasty, it is also one of the best deals on a drink. The same stand sells amazing fried dough treats. If I have the extra cash, I usually splurge on one. Not always on opening day tho, ha ha.

We take care and try to visit every exhibition building. Most of them have a sponsor and/or theme. Different hobby societies run them as well. We like to show our appreciation for their efforts.

By this time, we have run into several people we know. I guarantee you that I will meet up with 5 people I had worked with at some point. And yes, we have had past clients come up to us and give us hugs. Big fair, small world.

The midway is jam-packed with rides. Bob is not a ride fan and with the costs of tickets, I have opted to pass on them. However, the Strates Shows has been with this fair for 91 years and they are the only carnival that travels via railway. Every summer, they are greeted as the come into Hamburg.

We typically make 2-3 circuits in a day, but we know we do not see everything. That’s why we come back several times. Sometimes it’s just the two of us and sometimes we go with friends. I have at least 3 fair play dates scheduled already.

Forget Christmas, Fair Time is my favorite time of the year.

Some quick Erie County Fair Facts:

  • The oldest building on the grounds is the Octagon Building, which was built in 1885 for $2,037.50.
  • The James E. Strates Shows Midway first appeared at the Fair in 1924 and still arrives at the Fair each year via railroad.
  • The Fair owns the only original San Francisco Cable Car operating outside those city limits.
  • The metal 40-foot span main gate on McKinley Parkway was built in 1930 to allow four automobiles to enter the fairgrounds abreast.
  • Lynda Bird Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson, formally dedicated the Historical Building on August 23, 1965.  The Agricultural and Grange Building was opened five days later.
  • The Erie County Fair became the country’s largest county fair for the first time in 1970, with an attendance of 600,960.  It is currently the nation’s third largest county fair.
  • The Event Center (formerly known as the International Agri-Center) was completed in 1990.  The Center is 74,000 square-feet and cost $4.5 million.
  • The Erie County Fair set its attendance record in 2014 with a paid attendance of 1,220,101.
  • The Erie County Fair is not affiliated with any government agency and does not receive any government funding.  As a non-for-profit agency we are eligible to apply for grants.