The Great Allentown Fair, which ran from Aug. 28 through Sept. 3, celebrated its 166th year this summer. The first few days of the 2018 fair were off to a bit of a rough start with the weather, which was speculated to have had an impact on crowd attendance. Temperatures were very hot, about 10 to 15 degrees warmer than average. Wednesday and Thursday of the fair were especially toasty and featured heat indexes skyrocketing to above 100 degrees.
Allentown Fair Marketing Manager Jessica Ciecwisz says that despite the initial negative impact of the sweltering heat, Friday, Saturday and Sunday brought some relief and Saturday and Sunday especially saw increases in crowd attendance.
Ciecwisz adds that uncooperative weather has been the main challenge for the fair every year. “But you get what you get with the weather,” she adds. “We also try to advertise that plenty of indoor spaces are available if the weather doesn't cooperate.”
The final numbers of attendees who attended the fair could not be given at this time, but the event ended with a good turnout overall. The cost of admission was $8 for adults. Admission was free for children under the age of 12.
Preview Night featured $3 admission. The fair also offered Weekdays Under the Wire, where visitors could enter the grounds for free from noon to 2 p.m. on select days. Senior Citizens also received $4 entry after 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
The grounds feature six different grandstand events. Unlike many fairs, which tend to feature a concert on opening night, the Great Truck & Tractor Pull was the opening act at the Allentown Fair and it was said to be big success.
“We have great entertainment and our grandstand events always draw large crowds,” says Ciecwisz.
On other evenings of the six-day event, famous acts such as Sugarland, 5 Seconds of Summer, Niall Horan, The Offspring and Gym Class Heroes drew in a lot of fair-goers and rocked the crowd.
Comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesisas was also a hit this year. The J&J demolition derby closed out the grandstand events.
Ciecwisz says that other noteworthy attractions for 2018 included an extreme pogo stunt team and crafty contests where contestants could compete to make things such as flower pot people and crop art. There was also an increase in the livestock exhibits featured.
Additionally, visitors could enjoy attractions such as the Robinson's Pig Paddling Porkers, the Nerveless Nocks All-American Thrill Show, the 4-H petting zoo, Lil' Farm Hands exhibit for kids, RCN Farmerama Theater variety show, The Marvelous Mutts – A Canine Spectacular, the Rhinestone Roper, and the sixth annual grape stomp, which took place on Sunday of the fair.
Powers Great American Midways provided the rides this year. There were more than 40 rides for people to enjoy and Ciecwisz says the midway company experienced a surge in ride revenue, though exact numbers could not be provided at this time.
Another big success was the best of the fair food contest, where food vendors competed for a chance to win the title and fair-goers voted on their favorites. There were over 14 entries, with interesting concoctions such as loaded fries, cheesesteak quesadillas, pie in a cone and peanut butter and jelly cinnamon buns. The grand winner, however, was Maddalena's Cheesecake Gelato.
Another attraction was The Agri-Plex, which is always a go-to spot. The spacious exhibition building showcases the best of what is grown, sewn, cooked, created and collected in the community. The Agri-Plex also featured baking contests as well as the Grain to Grass Cocktail competition – a mixology contest where area bartenders whipped up drinks with spirits from local distilleries.
The Allentown Fair hosted a dozen culinary contests in the Agri-Plex as a way to showcase the area's most talented amateur bakers and cooks. Some of the contests offered entrants prize money or gifts; others offered qualified contestants the opportunity to move on to state or national competitions. A few of the competitions included the Clover Hill Vineyards and Winery's Homemade Candy Contest, the Pampered Chef Marvelous Muffin Contest and The Great American Spam Championship – which offered the first place winner the chance to have his or her recipe sent to the National Spam Championship; additionally, the winner would be entered for a chance to win a trip to the 2019 Spam Jam Waikiki Festival in Honolulu. Even children could take part in the contests – the winning child in the Spam kids category had a chance to win $2,000 and the title of Spam Kid Chef of the Year. An Allentown child won the title for 2018 with his creation of Spam Crunchy Nuggets.
Agriculture is Most Important to Fair
Perhaps the biggest draw to the Allentown Fair is its agricultural aspects, primarily the livestock showcases. In addition to the importance the fair places on educating the public about food origins, Ciecwisz says that there were increases in the livestock shows and contests this year, which span across six different divisions. She adds that she believes the fair is special because of its agricultural focus and does not hesitate to promote the ongoing importance of the fair's agricultural aspects. She says that she foresees this importance of agriculture only growing stronger in the future.
“We are here first and foremost to promote agriculture,” she says. “Our whole west side is dedicated to agriculture. People now care so much more about where their food comes from, and the farm to table movement is growing even more popular. People are so conscious,” Ciecwisz continues. “They are interested in having access to locally sourced food, and the interest is only going to continue. We are going to get more farm to table demonstrations in the future, and I see the west end – the agricultural end – of our fair prospering in that area.”
The Allentown Fair advertises equally through TV, newspaper, radio and social media outlets. Ciecwisz says that the annual budget is always changing and exact figures for 2018 could not be given at this time.