It’s the busiest time of the year for Billy Barlow Sr. and his wife Lisa as they travel throughout New York state with their concession stand — they have been doing that for several decades now
By Stefan Yablonski
Barlow is a name known in the Oswego area long before Mayor Billy Barlow Jr. burst on the Port City political scene.
His dad, Billy Barlow Sr., and mother, Lisa, along with their trailer have been fixtures at more than four dozen summer events for about four decades.
Barlow’s Concessions has pretty much become synonymous with summertime. Barlow’s Concessions specializes in carnival foods — such as snow cones and fried dough — for festivals and other events. They are at the farmers’ market and Oswego Speedway just about every week.
“I’ve been doing this since 1977. Started right here in Oswego; but we branched out a long time ago,” Billy Sr. said as he slaved away over a vat of boiling oil preparing fried dough for the hungry crowd at Oswego’s farmers market recently.
He started selling snowcones — “down on the corner down there,” he said pointing down West First to Bridge Street. “My father [Cecile] would pick me up from school, bring me down and sit me on that corner. Sold 25-cent snowcones. My father acquired a snowcone machine in 1977. We went all around town selling snowcones.”
“I used to sell snowcones all day down on the corner,” he continued. “Thursday was my good day. I’d sell some and then I would wheel across the street in front of Tot and Teens and sell snowcones and lemonade all night over there and I’m still doing the farmers’ market to this very day — do the math — that is a lot of years!”
There are no hi-tech snowcones.
“The same snowcone I was selling back then, I am selling today,” he said. “We do fried dough now and fresh squeezed lemonade — started that probably in 1978.”
Billy Sr. was working in the heat of the Oswego farmers’ market … and Billy Jr. wasn’t there.
“He’s gone camping or something. I think I brought him up right so he wouldn’t have to be here in this heat,” the elder Barlow laughed. “This is a little harder work than a lot of people think. I’ve been at this a long time; and am going to keep going, might slow down a little.”
“I don’t think my dad will ever retire fully,” Billy Jr. said in a separate interview. “He may scale back operations and do less events — but will there ever be a day he doesn’t do anything? Highly unlikely.”
“Whatever you do, don’t go sit in a chair. You have to stay active,” Billy Sr. said.
“We get to meet a lot of nice people — that’s what it’s all about,” the senior Barlow added.
Growing up, the younger Barlow wasn’t active in school sports. He was busy.
He’d work the family business on weekends and at night.
“When we traveled around, the kids could stay right with us when they were younger. All of their friends worked with us throughout the summer. So we got to see a lot of kids grow up and gave them a good summertime job,” Lisa said. “Billy [Jr.] was young when he started helping us — very young. The kids traveled right with us and helped alongside us.”
“Billy started towing his own trailer and doing his own shows two months after he turned 16. He got his [learner’s] permit when he turned 16,” his father said. “Then I made him go and get his driver’s license — the next weekend I had him hooked up to a trailer going to do a festival.”
“I didn’t even have to go with him. He already knew all that stuff. He was with me all the time, learning. He knows how to do everything. He might know more than me right now actually,” he added. “He managed teams of four or five workers while he was still in high school.”
“Do I personally do events? I only have a couple of my own events left,” Billy Jr. said. “But once I leave [the mayor’s] office, I’ll reassess the amount of events I want to do.”
“He bought a truck with his money. He bought it with his money — money he earned doing this,” his mother said.
“I didn’t give him any money, either,” his father added. “He earned it all by himself. When he wanted gas, I told him to take back the cans for the deposit.”
His daughter, Emily, and Billy Jr. are both good workers, he added.
“We traveled all around the state and our children knew all the small towns, Lisa said.
“We would mention some little town and our kids would know exactly where it was,” Billy Sr. said.
“… and the history behind it,” Lisa added. “It was just a neat experience working with them.”
“We worked a 180-mile radius out of Oswego. We’d go up to Lake Placid, we’d go to Albany and down as far as Brooklyn doing festivals. All over the place,” Billy Sr. said. “Did the state fair for a while, but quit last year.”
But they’ve never been to Coney Island. “My life’s a carnival; don’t need any more excitement,” he quipped.
They had a fleet of five trailers but are now down to just a couple.
“I used to go west — around Rochester; and then when Billy got out of college using his own trailer, he was doing stuff that way. Billy used to do all my field days each summer. Him and his buddies would do all the field days,” he added. “I’d send Billy with Ontario Amusements and they’d kind of team up — they kept an eye on him, making sure he wasn’t doing anything he wasn’t supposed to be doing.”
“My parents still do probably over 50 events a year throughout New York, Arizona and an event in Las Vegas,” Billy Jr. said.
At most events they use a lot of dough. “I mix it as we go and I’m not sure what the weight is at every place. I’d say around 18 to 20 pounds, somewhere around there,” Billy Sr. said.
And they use about 100 to 120 lemons or more.
He has a lemon squeezer, probably from the 1950s — “but it works better than the newer ones.”
Billy Sr. said he shopped at flea markets and on sites like Ebay.
“I bought several; one for 99 cents and the most expensive one was $27,” he said.
“I’d guess he has 15-20 of the old- fashioned antique lemon squeezers,” Billy Jr. added. “We’ve saved them up because they’re super hard to find, but we stick to them because they’re most effective.”
“I won’t run out in my lifetime. The one for $27 probably isn’t as good as this one,” Billy Sr. said, gesturing to the antique he was using at the farmers’ market.
The elder Barlow said he can remember selling snowcones to children who now have children buying the frosty treat — and “even the kids’ kids — come to get some!” he said.
“I think it’ll continue for some years to come in some way, shape or form. I can see my sister and I carrying it on one way or the other,” Billy Jr. said.