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Orange County Fair (NY) moves to three weekends
Move will expand weekend days, cut costs

5/11/2011

By Ron Weber, Editor

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Middletown, NY --- Like many fairs, the Orange County Fair in Middletown, NY faces tough economic challenges. The fair, about an hour,s drive from New York City, traditionally had long hours both weekdays and weekends. Over time, circumstances have changed. In recent years, the population with longer commutes and both parents working are coming increasingly on the weekends where they can enjoy a long day and get the most for their money. Promotions such as carload night with deep discounts, draw large crowds responding to the significant savings. On top of it all, recent rulings and increased enforcement of overtime regulations in New York State have put pressure on fairs and carnivals to reduce hours or face large payroll increases. After consultation with his carnival company, Strates Shows, and having studied other events around the country, fair manager Mike Gurda, IV decided to expand the fair to a three-weekend event, closing Mondays and Tuesdays each week. "It will be approximately the same number of days as in the past", said Gurda, "but we gain an extra weekend and that is where we make our money". Gate admission for the fair will be $8 with kids 12 and under admitted free. The popular carload nights which included admission and rides for up to eight people for $50 on Mondays, will now be moved to Wednesdays and there will be three of these promotions. With these changes the fair will now essentially be a weekend fair plus the three carload nights. In addition, the fair will be opening at 4pm during the week, cutting hours and costs. Camp Days, a popular program of the fair for many years due to the large number of overnight camps in the upstate New York area, will now be available any day of the fair through a group discount program. Gurda believes this will give the camps even more flexibility in their ability to attend the fair. Gurda said Strates shows, which moves from the Orange County Fair to the Erie County Fair, was a strong advocate for the move. The extended weekends puts them in a position to be open when large crowds can attend and the cut in hours will help with regular and overtime labor costs for the show. 2011 will be Strates, fifth year at the event. They supply over 50 rides and attractions on the grounds and the fair is their first large event in the north for the season. On the entertainment front, Gurda has mostly switched to booking tribute bands on his stages, replacing headliner acts from years past. With the increasing costs of headline entertainment, Gurda has found the tribute bands can draw crowds without breaking the bank. The fair will also have several motor sports events such as a demolition derby and stock car racing. The fair has a speedway that Gurda promotes during the balance of the year so the automobile fans are a staple of the fair. Other grounds acts in 2011 include the Sandlofer family,s Petting Zoo and wolf show as well as Cowtown USA. Gurda is the third generation of his family to manage the fair. His grandfather, Mike Gurda, Jr., a prominent New York attorney, served on many local boards and charities. He became involved with the fair and engineered the purchase of land surrounding the fair to help it grow. Gurda, Jr. was a towering figure at the fair, involved in almost every aspect of the event. With the passing of Gurda Jr., Mike Gurda III took the reins for several years before Mike IV took a great interest in the fair and speedway, eventually taking leadership from his father, who still lends a watchful eye and sage advice whenever it is needed. One difficulty for the fair in moving dates is the disruption of routing for several fair vendors. While many of the vendors were able to add the extra week for the Orange County Fair, there were also several long time vendors that were not able to make the transition to three weeks because of prior commitments. This has opened a new opportunity for Gurda to book additional vendors and offer some opportunities that have not been available in the past. With the move to three weekends, new vendors and entertainment and a solid slate of promotions, the Orange County Fair is poised to reap the rewards of several years of hard work and planning by the organizers and their carnival.

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