'Don't Write Us Off': After Financial Troubles, Vermont State Fair Works To Rebound

Aug 17, 2017

The 172nd Vermont State Fair is underway in Rutland with a shorter five-day schedule. Officials say it's part of a rebuilding effort after a rocky few years.

Historically the merry-go-rounds, animal barns and carnival attractions would run for 10 days, around Labor Day weekend.

But Robert Congdon, vice president of the Rutland County Agricultural Society, which operates the fair, says it was difficult to sustain crowds after school started and finding carnival companies for that time slot became increasingly difficult.

But there were also internal problems within the fair administration that were causing issues, as well as significant debt that came to light in 2014. Congdon admits they've worked hard in the years since. 

"Financially we have taken great steps forward to ensure our stability which has been questionable off and on," Congdon says. "Our change in dates [from September to August] was certainly a hurdle that we had to overcome."  

He says he has full confidence in Amusements of America, the company they've contracted with to provide rides. That company came under fire last month after an 18-year old man was killed when he was thrown from one of the company's thrill rides at the Ohio State Fair.

Congdon pointed out that Amusements of America is a large company with several branches. He says the branch of the company supplying rides in Rutland is different from the one that was operating in Ohio and he says the ride in question — the Fire Ball — was not scheduled to be brought to the Rutland fair.

Congdon says the safety of the public is their first concern, and he says fire marshals thoroughly inspected the attractions and grounds before opening day on Tuesday. 

Raul Willis helps greet fairgoers in Rutland with his tropical birds Sunny and Cherry.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

While Congdon says they were unable to get some longtime attractions this year because of scheduling conflicts, he says a NASCAR simulator and tropical bird aviary are among popular new offerings.

He says they hope to offer new attractions every year as the fair grows and moves ahead.  

"Don't write us off," says Congdon. "Come visit us. Come support us and know that we're working to get back to the great days of the Rutland Fair."

Congdon says between 4,000 and 5,000 people came Tuesday for opening day, which he was pleased by.  

Vendor Glenda Belock sells fried dough and lemonade at the fair. While she says the first day started slow, it finished strong.

"So far, the fair has been pretty good," Belock said Wednesday. "Better than last year and much better than the year before that."

"So I'm optimistic about what fair organizers say about rebuilding. Make that cautiously optimistic," she adds, smiling.

The 2017 Vermont State Fair runs through Saturday, Aug. 19.