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Fairs and Festivals: A Boon to Local Economies

More than just fun family outings, fairs and festivals also bring an income bump to local businesses

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

From Harborfest in Oswego to The Great New York State Fair, and numerous other festivals, the season’s events make summertime even more special.

More than just fun family outings, fairs and festivals also bring an income bump to local businesses.

David Bullard, consultant for Harborfest and former official with NYS Fair: “Festivals turn money around,” he says.

“Festivals stimulate people to get out of their houses and go someplace and have fun where other people are having fun,” said Dave Bullard, certified festivals and event executive by the International Festivals and Event Association. “The bigger the festival, the more likely they are to create economic impact by drawing people from outside the area.”

Bullard served as public relations director of the Great New York State Fair and currently works as a consultant for Harborfest and H. Lee White Maritime Museum, both in Oswego. Bullard also volunteers for the International Taste Festival in Syracuse.

Attracting more people to the area represents only one positive influence of events. As visitors come to the area, they may fill up their tank, buy a meal at a restaurant off-site, or shop at a store that they don’t have back home.

“The longer you’re traveling, the more likely it is to build other things into your trip,” Bullard said. “We’d see this at the fair where they might stay a couple days with friends or at a hotel. That affects tourism. They’d also visit other attractions or go shopping. I do the same. We’re going on a trip and now I’m looking for other things to do in Memphis while we’re there. We’re also going to look for some shops, places to eat and museums to visit.”

While attending a street fair, even locals may discover a shop they’d never noticed before because they had no previous reason to visit that part of town.

The host itself also spends money to prepare for its event. Bullard said that the fair budgets about $10 million to $15 million for things like supplies, signs, payroll and other things.

“But even the smallest festival has spending that goes out back into the community,” he added. “Festivals turn money around.”

The nonmonetary effects can also boost morale in a community, which can eventually turn into more income for area businesses as people discover more reasons to live, shop and recreate in their towns.

“The vitality is there and people feel much more likely to want to be a part and invest in their community,” Bullard said. “Festivals show it’s a fun place to live. Without them, it is hard to justify investment. People look at what else is going on in a town they might want to move to. That feeling of community strength you can’t buy. It’s created through the investments people make.”

It doesn’t have to be an event as big as the Great New York State Fair, which draws over a million visitors annually. The businesses near the Oswego County Fair in Sandy Creek also benefit.

Tim Ridgeway, senior vice president of the Oswego Agricultural Society, which manages the Oswego County Fair.

“There’ll be people camping here at the local campsite and going to the Tops grocery store and gas station and other stores here in town,” said Tim Ridgeway, senior vice president of the Oswego Agricultural Society, which manages the event. “There are restaurants and grocery stores that vendors and exhibitors may use.”

The three-day fair raises money for the local fire department and offers 4-H exhibitors a local show before heading out to the state fair.

As an example of a local festival, the Syracuse Polish Festival has operated since 1954, promoting Polish heritage. The event offers several $1,000 scholarships annually to deserving college students.

“We’re using local industries,” said Donald H. Dutkowsky secretary to the Polish Scholarship Fund and professor emeritus of economics at SU. “We pay for things like tent rental, security within the festival, overnight security, and rental of Porta Johns. We’re benefiting local companies and local bands.”

In addition, fairs and festivals typically offer space for local companies within vendor areas. Dutkowsky said these opportunities can help them expand their revenue through additional exposure and sales. He added that especially since the pandemic, it’s important for businesses to have more visibility. It’s also good for the city.

“Events like Syracuse Juneteenth (June 16-19) and Festa Italiana (Sept. 15-17) give us a reputation as a city that has these safe, family-friendly events,” Dutkowsky said. “We’re part of what Syracuse has to offer. If you come to CNY, this is a place you can stop on a nice weekend and incorporate an event in your stay.”