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Crowds stretch fair’s ability to provide

The star of the 94th annual Durham Fair didn’t perform on a stage, get fried in oil, derive from Connecticut grapes, spin round and round, weigh 1,766.5 pounds, moo, baa, or trumpet. The star of the Durham Fair was the gorgeous weather, and it visited the fairgrounds for four days.

The sunshine and clear skies seemed unfamiliar to longtime fairgoers, who have grown accustomed to at least one washout day. Packing rain gear and judging parking lots by the likelihood of getting stuck has become as much a ritual of the fair as Ride Day.

Not a single raindrop fell in Durham and the temperatures stayed in the low to mid 70s from the Sept. 26 ribbon cutting by Dr. Frances Korn, who attended the first fair as a six-week-old, to the return of exhibits and the handing out of ribbons on Sept. 29.

“Who would have thought it would be sunny at the Durham Fair?” asked Lisa Franceschet, of Durham.

The record numbers eventually led to a crowd concern and opened gates on Saturday night before the Josh Turner show. The lines for the town green gates backed up to Main Street and then curved south next to traffic. The line, according to witnesses, reached the Dunkin Donuts.

In a statement, the Durham Fair Association said, “On Saturday there was surge at the entrance gates and in the interest of public safety, a decision was made by the Fair Association in conjunction with the State Police to temporarily open the gates. Public safety is our top priority.”

The top and bottom gates were opened to prevent the lines from becoming a safety and crowd control problem. The fairgrounds could handle the crowds but the gates could not process them fast enough so temporarily on Saturday night, no admission was charged and the bag inspections were halted. Middlefield’s First Selectman Jon Brayshaw and Durham’s First Selectman Laura Francis praised the decision.

Civic and non-profit booths reported record days and sold out items as the crowds poured in. The Durham Co-op ran out of plates and forks and served its grilled chicken on hot dog holders. According to Franceschet, a Benchwarmers‘ volunteer, its booth was completely sold out. “We sold out of Bison Burgers. We never sell out of Bison Burgers,” she said.

Volunteer Heather Deming said the Middlefield Volunteer Fire Department ran out of bread bowls and served its chowder out of cups, with bread slices on the side. “Everywhere you turned there were crowds,” Deming said.

The United Churches of Durham had to stop selling lime rickeys for 30 minutes while they waited for new canisters of seltzer to be carted up the hill. “It’s great to see the sunshine and the crowds,” said Cheryl-Ann Tubby.

Some volunteers spoke with pride of their booth’s ability to withstand the crowds. “We came right down to the wire,” said Betsy Dean at the DMYFS booth. Dean said they had one gallon of cider left when the fair closed on Saturday. According to Dean, the booth normally needs one trip to Lyman Orchards, but needed three this year.

According to volunteers, the Coginchaug Regional High School scholarship bananas and the John Lyman corn booth were both stocked for the crowds, while the VFW booth ran down to 20 hot dogs. The corn booth did almost run out of quarters, said volunteer Nicole Roberts, who called Saturday “an excellent day.”

“It was a record day for the Killingworth Lions,” said the Sunday counter man.

Longtime fairgoers struggled to remember four days of such good weather and crowds matching Saturday night. “It reminded me of growing up, seeing that hill filled. It’s good for the fair,” said Steve Alsup of Durham.

Families were able to leave the 94th annual Durham Fair because they were done, and not under an umbrella or behind a tow truck, but under clear skies.

“We had more to see and more to do!” wrote Durham Fair’s Marketing Coordinator Debbie Huscher in an e-mail after the fair.

While attendance figures were not finalized, Huscher wrote those figures were strong. “We were fortunate to have four beautiful, rain free days that helped contribute to the success.”

Huscher added that the fair had attractions in addition to the weather. “We had a lot of exciting news for the Durham Fair — reduced admission prices, new and improved Green with the Ferris wheel and the Connecticut Wine Festival, the switching of the motorized events ring and the giant pumpkin breaking the Durham Fair and the state record.” Headline acts Justin Moore and Josh Turner were also strong draws. Moore’s latest single topped the country charts just before the fair.

On Sunday morning, the ATMs on the lower part of the fairgrounds stopped working for a period and, while workers in the souvenir booths said it was likely a WiFi issue, the rumor spread that the machines were out of money. Given the crowds, the rumor seemed plausible.

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