State of limbo: Despite public relations spin to the contrary, it appears that most fair-goers are not at all happy with the way second-year Director Dan O’Hara is running the show. It remains to be seen what, if anything, will be done about fair leadership, not that the balancing act or the young farmer appear too concerned about it. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTOS
“I would estimate that business has been off 10 percent to 20 percent,” said Chuck McGee, speaking for Charlie’s, a food stand along the colonnade. “The reason for the drop is the lack of the wine court. The owners feel that with the wine court gone, the small stands and the gazebo empty, there’s no reason for anyone to come up here. They got a deejay for some nights. They had to do something to get people up here. Nobody was coming up here. Some of our regulars told us they’ve been boycotting the Live Nation stand.”
Anthony’s has sold food at the fair along the colonnade for more years than Charlie’s, so it probably has more customer loyalty. Owner Mike Anthony felt fair traffic was business as usual. “It’s been about the same last year,” he noted. “There hasn’t been much difference.”
It’s hard to assess the effect of a public disgruntled by the wine court move and turned off by O’Hara’s autocratic management style. Weather was terrific with rain
falling only early in the morning or well after dark. But attendance numbers weren’t too impressive—the final tally was 927,871, down 8,500 from 2007—especially considering the boost they got from the nice weather and a floundering economy that kept people home, making the Fair their summer vacation splurge.
Another negative factor could have been a Chevrolet Court entertainment line-up stocked mainly with reruns and unknowns and devoid of golden oldies for the senior days. The Jonas Brothers, the 1970’s rock triple-bill of Journey, Heart and Cheap Trick, and Rascal Flatts attracted big grandstand crowds; the others did not.
Another major change relocated the Lottery Pavilion from its prime location near the main gate. Though the new spot, the former Paisan’s food stand, was OK, the Pride of New York Marketplace at the old spot was not a great idea for such a prime location. It wouldn’t seem that people go to the Fair to buy spaghetti sauce and salsa.
Missing was a big draw, gate-busting exhibit in the buildings where in recent years they had the JFK, Elvis and Toothpick City displays or, going back a few more years, the Baseball Hall of Fame and NASA.
An upside was that there was no announced censorship of artworks submitted for display in the Art and Home Center, though artists may have been reluctant to submit pieces after O’Hara’s removal last year of an award-winning photo. The director showed remarkable restraint in consideration of numerous pieces with alcohol-related themes, several with religious imagery, a painting devoted to Elvis Presley, who was a known drug addict, and a sculpture of snakes that could be interpreted as demonic.
The Center of Progress boasted a reduced number of pitchmen and increased government agency visibility, a good move since there were still plenty of gadget and cleaning product vendors in other spots. But the centerpiece of the building, a giant map of New York taking up a large spot in the middle, might have been symbolic of the changes but was, after all, just a map.
Animal acts dominated the new shows for kids, with Bear Mountain the most entertaining as well as the most disturbing for animal lovers. It seemed like a quiet year for the Circus Hollywood after its move to the infield amusement area.
New foods worth tasting included apple fritters at the Log Cabin, deep-fried pineapple at Hawaii Five-9 and Canadian fries at Daniella’s.
With nearby road construction projects shut down temporarily, traffic flowed smoothly and few traffic jams were reported.
But controversy over the director continued throughout the 12 days with news reports, letters to the editor and comments and complaints from vendors and fair staff all too common. With State Fair 2008 history, the run-up to the 2009 edition could prove extremely entertaining, especially in light of persistent rumors that O’Hara won’t be returning.
Does anyone have the phone numbers for Peter Cappuccilli or Joe LaGuardia?
Fair-weather friends: For the most part, State Fair attendees enjoyed spectacular weather during the expo’s 12-day run. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO